Matthew 18: 15-35 – HOW DO WE FORGIVE?
Grace and Peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!
We continue our readings on relationships, but today with an emphasis on “forgiveness.” We ask ourselves, “How Do We Forgive?” “Is there a limit or an amount of forgiving we must do to truly forgive someone?” For most of us, the act of forgiving never came naturally. It was a learned behavior. In fact, our first forgiving behaviors came about when we were children. Someone would take our toy or knock down our blocks, and that child would be told, “Now, go say you’re sorry!” And the apology would be forcibly mumbled under that child’s breath. We would then be directed to respond “It’s OK,” or “Thank you.” Or if it was a mutual disagreement or reciprocal act, we might be directed to respond, “I’m sorry too.” As we grew older, we no longer needed direction but the words grew harder to say. It was hard to admit our fault, and even harder to find the proper words to say. It was no longer enough to just say, “I’m sorry.” We actually had to voice that we understood what we did was wrong or hurtful, and only when that was done, did the apology seem sincere.
We are given further instruction from Jesus in our reading. First, Jesus tells the disciples that if someone sins against them, they are to go to that person privately and address the concern. If that doesn’t work, they should take one or two others to be witnesses to what is happening. And if that still doesn’t work, then it is time to go before the whole congregation to address the issue. But this is the last try at reconciliation. After that, one is to walk away. BUT… This does not mean this person is beyond GOD’s own mercy and forgiveness. This is where GOD will always try to reach out in some way, and bring the offender back into the fold.
The Gospel of Matthew has deep concerns about how we are existing as a Christian community. Just was we are concerned with the current emptiness in our Christian churches across the country. Those who were listening to Jesus know that they needed to carve out their identity as Jewish Jesus-followers, just as we are trying to figure out what model of church are we going to become in this modern age – one that will attract and retain a “new and improved” Christian community. We know this searching will cause some pain, conflict, struggle and even much disagreement. But we need to push through all this to bring about a deeper change that encourages a more connected faith.
As humans, we often find ourselves or others speaking about the offender with or to others before speaking to the one that offended. Because, let’s be honest, it is easier to complain to others than to talk to the offending person. But Jesus leaves no room for this behavior. He wants us to be adult and direct.
After Jesus’s direction on how to forgive, Peter pipes up, to ask just how many times he needs to forgive. He’s trying to emulate a Christ-like behavior, but wants to know just how often he needs to continue before being able to withdraw. The number 7 symbolizes wholeness or completeness, so it was not a surprise to Jesus that Peter picked this number. Or that Peter was told to multiply this by 70. But the number is not important. Jesus just wants us to have an abundance of forgiveness in our hearts. And a forgiveness that is complete, driven by the heart, and beyond any mathematical calculation.
To make his point, Jesus tells the disciples a parable about a servant who was forgiven by his master, for a tremendous debt that was owed. You would think the servant would’ve been so thankful, that he would’ve been able to do the same, with a fellow servant who owed him money! Instead, the first servant throws this fellow servant into prison. When his master heard what had happened, he was so angered that the servant had not shown any mercy as he had done, he had the servant tortured.
And the last line of the reading is important… “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Important – from your heart. No more of those empty childhood “Sorry’s.” The apology must be heart-felt and true. We are reminded of this type of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. Our world is full of lost forgiveness. So many hurts, disillusionments, and even violence against one another instead of a heart ready to forgive.
This reading comes right after the parable of the lost sheep – a childhood favorite – and gives the reader a visual reminder that the main aspect of relationships is to help each other be a part of a group or family, and to help each other reconcile and forgive when one goes astray.
Forgiving does not negate the act done or words spoken, but gives voice to what has happened between one another – acknowledges the hurt, and reminds us that we need God in our life, to help us to reconcile with each other. So we ask God to be in the midst of these moments of forgiveness, and to help us make forgiveness a way to find peace with God and with each other. Amen.