As I was preparing to write my thoughts for today’s sermon, my mind wandered greatly especially around our Gospel from Matthew.
“How often should I forgive?”
Forgive what? I asked myself.
Debt? Hurt? Cruelty? Tardiness? Lies? Betrayal? Murder?
C.S. Lewis once said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
In our Gospel, we find Peter, the everlasting task master, trying to figure out the precise number of times a person must be required to forgive someone. He innocently asks Jesus, “Seven times?”
Jesus becomes irritated, much as a teacher becomes irritated when a student has not paid attention in class, and misses the instructions and the meaning of the lesson completely. In today’s terms, this would be my student, who has their ear pods in, and appears to be listening, but misses the point entirely.
Jesus responds to his student, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Really meaning, as many times as it’s needed for you, the forgiver to forget why you are forgiving the person in the first place.
Sidenote: The number Seventy-Seven was not a random number. Jesus is referring back to Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech, a decendent of Cain, remember Cain and Able, brags that the mortal vengeance he has made against a young man who hurt him far exceeded God’s promise of seven-fold punishment against anyone who might kill Cain. Jesus’ reference here to probably was a call to his friends to undo this eye for an eye curse that created so much vengeance and violence of retribution for generations, and some might argue, that is still happening today.
But that is Old Testament stuff, and we Christians are made out of New Testament stuff.
So what does this Gospel lesson mean for us today?
Well, simply put, God is commanding us to unconditional forgive each other.
He wants us to forgive our enemies.
There is no But in that statement and it sounds so simple doesn’t it?
At this point in my life, I find it simple to forgive simple things.
- Jill and her perpetual lateness
- Geoff and his procrastination
- My student’s foul language
- My colleagues lack of attention to discipline
- Even my principal’s lack of consistency
But I find it harder to forgive Horrid Drivers, People who deface private property, senseless acts of domestic violence, drug dealers, etc.
I have read that, “Unforgiveness is like blood-sucking leeches of your spiritual life.”
That letting resentment fill our lives, is “like drinking poison hoping the other person dies.”
Unconditional. That one’s hard for me.
Could I forgive the person who drove drunk and killed my child?
Could I forgive the person who raped me?
Could I forgive the person who intentionally stole something from me?
To be honest, I don’t know if I could.
But there is also a twist to the story in our Gospel this morning:
If I am the person seeking forgiveness for something I did, but in reality, I plan to commit the same practice that I’m asking forgiveness for, the day after I am forgiven, is this Okay? Good question. The answer is NO. I should not do that. Pretty obvious, right? But it happens.
Should I, the forgiver, Forgive this person? Even though I know that the person asking for forgiveness is going to knowingly commit the same sin again?
What do I do?
I believe there is some good news here.
God is the ultimate judge of our sins. Thankfully, I am not.
So, I believe that although, the people that we encounter in our daily lives may ask for our forgiveness, but may knowingly or not continue to commit the same wrongs over and over again, and continue to ask for our forgiveness, over and over again, it is not up to us to judge them, but to forgive them, over and over again.
After all, isn’t that what God does for each of us? Over and Over again.
Why would our forgiveness trump God’s forgiveness?
To me, that is what is meant by unconditional forgiveness.
Tough stuff for sure.
This was not the first sermon I wrote for today.
The first one was a story about a dear friend of mine, Ann, who was killed in a car accident, where another dear friend, Mike, was driving and he happened to be drunk. The girl’s father, Vern, a devote, who walked the talk of Jesus Christ, not only sat with Mike’s family as Mike struggled to survive from his injuries, but also testified at his trial, asking for Forgiveness for his actions that night. An amazing act of unconditional forgiveness for sure.
The Gospel this morning leaves us with a threat and warning about our own forgiving practices:
Unconditionally Forgive each other or else. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t plan retribution. Let it go.
Don’t ask for forgiveness on one hand, knowing that you are going to do just the opposite with the other hand.
Sounds simple. But is it? And that’s the dilemma.
How often should we forgive each other? How often should we forgive and let go?
Every time. Every Time. That is the message and that is God’s charge and commandment to us, unconditionally.