Anyone who has never felt wronged ?
Anyone who has not grappled with a sense that the world is not fair, that wrongs need righting, that justice must be done, that somehow something must be done to set things right?
Peter's question is in reality our question...
How many times should I forgive?
I need you to put a number on it God, I need to know that you see the hurts and pains that I put up with, to know that you are on my side....
Tell me then, tell me please, how many times should I forgive? Seven times? Would that be OK?
How many of us have never hurt another person?
How many have never done anything wrong?
How many have grappled with the way that the world ( our friends, parents, spouses, siblings, the law, the church) has judged us and found us wanting?
How many times do we stand in need of forgiveness?
"I forgive you", three small words, perhaps three of the most powerful words we can ever hear or offer, certainly they are some of the most freeing. We know that forgiveness is good for us, it affects our physical and mental wellbeing and has an impact on the world around us, on our families, our communities and ultimately our world.
There are many, many tales of forgiveness, when the power of a chosen act, to forgive has affected more than just the ones offering and receiving forgiveness. On the 8th November 1978 in a Remembrance day parade in Enniskellin, Northern Ireland a bomb went off, Gordon Wilson and his daughter Marie were caught in the explosion, trapped in the rubble together they talked as her life ebbed away. His response caught the headlines and has sent out ripples ever since. His words were simple:
"I will bear no grudge, I will bear no ill will", he continued campaigning for peace but sadly died thinking his efforts had achieved little, perhaps he was unaware of the profound and inspiring effect that they had on many, but there was more, his continued and chosen attitude of forgiveness had had a profound effect on those he met. a senior member of Sinn Fein shared his thoughts on the peace process with Rev Harold Good ( former Methodist President who officiated at Mr Wilson's funeral) that Mr Wilson's words and actions were " an important contribution to bringing us to where we are now".
Following his release Nelson Mandela famously stated " As I walked out of the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom I knew that if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I' still be in prison."
But then highlighting the complex nature of forgiveness he also spoke of how hard his own personal relationships could be when forgiveness was called for, he could forgive his former jailers, but to forgive his ex-wife was more challenging.
How many times should we forgive? When we are faced with the need to forgive, or our own need for forgiveness we are also faced with a barrage of feelings and thoughts, our fight or flight mechanism kicks in.
I would also suggest that sometimes our religious selves can be our own worst enemies as we try to smooth things over and make them right without really dealing with the issue, the result is a rumbling cancerous pile of resentment and anger that will either poison us slowly or explode unexpectedly.
How hard forgiveness is...
How often should we forgive? Jesus response to Peter was the impossible 70 times 7, an impossible number, not calling for Peter to keep a tally but rather showing the ongoing nature of the act of forgiveness, and typically Jesus uses a parable to illustrate his point.
A slave is forgiven a huge debt, an impossible debt to repay; the king has had compassion upon him, has heard his plea for mercy and has responded.
The slave, unburdened of his debt, set free from his obligation promptly displays an astonishing lack of grace by demanding payment from a fellow slave for a far, far smaller amount...
We shake our heads in disbelief!
But where are we in the story, where do we who say we have been set right with God stand?
Do we know and feel ourselves to be forgiven? Are we set free?
What on earth was going on in the first slaves head as he demanded payment from his fellow slave?
I want to take you to another room, to the house of Simon the Pharisee, to see Jesus sat at the table. I want you to feel the shock as a woman, a known "sinner" enters the room, I want you to smell the scented oil of love that is poured over Jesus feet, now hear Jesus words:
"her sins—and they are many—are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love.”
Are we conscious of our need for forgiveness, are we conscious of the grace of God that flows and moves among us even now, offering healing, forgiveness, a real encounter with the depth of the love of a God who sees us as we are, who sees behind our Sunday best, and loves us anyway?
We are forgiven 70 times seven, set free from our burdens of doubt and fear, of despair even at ourselves by the one who created us and calls us good!
We are, but do we know it?
Jesus offers us a choice, the choice to live in a free and forgiving state, an opportunity to continue to receive the grace and love of God who draws alongside us even now asking us to take his wounded, nail scarred hand and to walk with him through our wounded lives into a wounded world, to practice forgiveness and to be channels of peace and grace. This is the path of healing; it might be long and hard, but there is life in it!
But we can choose not to know, to be unaware of the grace of Gods freeing love in our lives, to be those who demand and judge and exude a moral upright bitterness that closes us down and cuts the flow of freedom and life. We can choose this path, but it literally leads to a dead end.
The King and judge in Jesus parable turns over the first slave to be tormented and tortured, and this , Jesus parable ends with a stark point, is what my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from the heart...
Suddenly we have a harsh and unforgiving God, can this be true?
Who might our tormentors be? Is Jesus speaking about hell? I think it is more subtle than that, our bitterness if that is our choice becomes our tormentor, our anger eats us up, by refusing forgiveness we stop the flow of grace, by grappling with it, and that can be hard, we keep the channels open, by choosing to live a life in forgiveness we choose to live in freedom.
Among Jesus final words from the cross were the powerful words " Forgive them Father, they know not what they do..."
I leave you with one question, can we draw on the love of Christ so deep that even nailed to a cross he reveals to us the God of love who forgives his accusers and tormentors?
It is not an easy road, but it is the road to life...
Waves of grace ( from a tryptich) Images mine