Linda says she can teach anyone to sing. We’ll see.
Here is what I know. I am going to need a lot of charity from the Seaburys who, thankfully, are gracious and compassionate people. And I have some work to do on forgiving my wife.
That is just a joke. But our gospel reading is all about forgiveness. And forgiveness is a sensitive topic.
We all need forgiveness. Virtually all of us have done things to people we love that we are not proud of. Being honest about our need for forgiveness is hard enough.
And virtually all of us carry wounds, sometimes deep and painful wounds, from other people in our lives. To think about forgiving people who have hurt us may be even harder.
But Jesus says we should forgive.
Peter asks Jesus, “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter thinks seven seems like a lot. I am inclined to agree with Peter.
But not Jesus. Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Jesus says, forgive, and keep on forgiving, as many times as it takes.
Jesus doesn’t say forgive as long as the other person hasn’t been too awful, or forgive after the other person apologizes and makes it right. Jesus just says “forgive.” The end.
That is a hard saying. It seems unfair to ask us to forgive people who have hurt us, especially if they have shown no remorse.
But—this is important—for Jesus, forgiveness is not about fairness.
So Jesus tells a parable.
A king forgives his slave an enormous debt. The forgiven slave refused to show the same generosity of spirit to another slave over a considerably smaller debt. So the king called the first slave back in, reinstated his debt, and handed him over to imprisonment and torture.
If we look just at the relationship between the two slaves in the parable, the one was within his rights when he demanded payment from his fellow slave. He was acting fairly.
But when we step back, when we take a broader perspective, the unforgiving slave doesn’t look good. After all, he has received so much forgiveness. Surely he should be willing to forgive the comparatively modest debt of his fellow slave.
Jesus says, we are that slave.
We come before God as sinners. I am a decent man. Lots of you are better than that. But God’s standard is perfect holiness, perfect goodness, perfect love. Even the best of us fall far short.
So there we are before God. And out of grace and love, God forgives us the entire debt we owe, all our sins, all our failures.
After receiving so much forgiveness from God, how should we respond to those who have hurt us? Surely, says Jesus, we can extend a bit of that same grace and forgiveness to each other.
Here is another parable about forgiveness, unfortunately based on a true story we heard last week from one of our brothers at Church without walls.
A man quarreled with his two sisters. The man severed all ties with his sisters. Then both his sisters were murdered.
I am in no position to judge the man who told us that story. None of us are. But we can learn from his story.
Let’s assume the sisters really did this man wrong. Still, the situation was probably more complicated because people are complicated and relationships are complicated. I have had plenty of disagreements in my life. And never once have I been totally in the right and the other person totally in the wrong.
So the sisters acted badly. But I am guessing the man had given them some reason for their bad behavior. Of course, the sisters probably had done something before he did whatever he did. But then he had probably acted like a jerk before that. And so on, back as far as anyone can remember. At least, that is how it is with every conflict I have ever had with people I have known a long time.
If that is the case, then what is fair? Who is right, and who is wrong, and who started it all? It is often an unanswerable question. Life is too complicated.
Now come back to this man’s story. This time, let’s assume the man was totally in the right. Let’s assume his anger and his hurt were fully justified. Let’s assume that his sisters refused to make it right, refused to apologize, refused to acknowledge what they had done. That may have been the case. If so, the man did not owe them anything. Severing ties with them was perfectly fair.
The man is still in the position of the forgiven slave in Jesus’ parable, of course. He has been forgiven much. That could be reason enough to forgive his sisters even if they were totally in the wrong.
But when he told us his story, this man did not mention what God had done for him. And he did not dwell on the rights and the wrongs in his conflict with his sisters. What he regretted was his lost relationship. His sisters died before he had a chance to forgive them and to tell them he had forgiven them. That was the tragedy of his story as he told it to us.
When we are angry and hurt, it is hard to forgive. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong. In the end, the key question is, what kind of relationship do I want with the person who hurt me?
This man wanted a relationship with his sisters. Now he will have to live with his regrets. Now, as best I could tell, he wished that he had forgiven his sisters, even though it would have been hard, even if his sisters didn’t deserve it, even if it took seventy-seven times.
There is at least one more lesson in this story. In fact, this man expressed regret at his broken relationship. But he might have really wanted and needed to sever ties with his sisters. It is possible they really were toxic. Some people are.
Still, we should forgive. We just have to remember what forgiveness is and what it is not.
Forgiveness does not mean saying that what the other person did was no big deal. Forgiveness does not mean letting the other person hurt us some more. Forgiveness does not mean that we want to be best friends with the person who hurt us.
Forgiveness is letting go of our pain. Forgiveness is laying down our burden of anger and hurt.
I think about a man who did me wrong. I am not interested in a relationship with him. But I got tired of carrying around all my anger and hurt. So I worked at forgiving him. And to the degree I have been able to forgive him, my burden is a lot lighter than it used to be. Forgiving him meant freedom for me.
So here’s the point. Forgiveness is not something that Jesus makes us do. Forgiveness is a gift that Jesus makes possible in our lives. We experience God’s forgiveness, and it sets us free, to be in relationship even with those who have hurt us, or at least to let go of our wounds.
And so I give thanks to God for the gift of forgiveness in our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, who died that we might be forgiven and empowered to forgive. Amen.