Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
v34The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”
v35And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18:34-35
Forgiveness. This is the heart of the gospel for the second Sunday in September, 15th in the season of Pentecost. And if you remember, it is related to the gospel reading last Sunday which also touched on forgiveness – or asking forgiveness.
Last mo nayan ha…sige, maminsan pay ta makitam ti birbiroken (that is your last, one more time and you’ll see). These words are familiar to us. We ourselves may have spoken them when somebody wronged or offended us in whatever level. It is some kind of a temporary reprieve or absolution from an infraction or a violation committed. A temporary forgiveness? Is there such a thing?
‘I will forgive but I will never forget’. Again, a temporary reprieve or a temporary forgiveness. It is temporary because once you commit a similar or even a different offense to the same person – such offense or violation will come back and make the offense even graver or heavier.
We all commit mistakes but not all could accept their mistakes. It is easier to get forgiveness if one accepts the wrong committed. Forgiveness is easier obtained if there is acceptance of the wrong committed. And the recipient of such forgiveness ought to bestow the same.
As with so many of the stories of Jesus, the parable of the debtors arose out of a question that was posed to Jesus. Simon Peter said to him: “Master, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times?”
Even as he asks that question my mind cannot help but think about children and how they will sometimes confess something they do wrong (even they are not asked) expecting to get praise from a teacher or a parent because they were so honest.
In the same sense, Simon Peter by asking this question is not expecting rebuke but praise. He is expecting Jesus to say: “Excellent Peter. You go to the head of the class. You get A+.” According to Jewish law, Peter had the right to think that he had done something good. Scribal law clearly read: “If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.” What Peter has done is to take this law of limited forgiveness, multiply it by two and add one, and then sit back with a smile on his face and say: Now how is that for being a great guy? And he surely must have been taken aback when Jesus said, ‘you must forgive seventy times seven’.
Then Jesus proceeded to tell a story. There was a certain king who had a day of reckoning for his servants… (Matthew 18:21-35, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant).
Maybe you have heard the story of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.”
His friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?” The other friend replied “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past.
We may read our Bibles daily, go to Sunday services regularly and listen to televangelists on the side, and this would make us so righteous that we fail to see through the layers of the offense committed against us the innate goodness of the person that deserves our love and forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in v.23, “Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts… which will help us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving.
Forgiveness, to be sure, is difficult, complicated, and layered with subtleties when there is something and someone to forgive and the offense is deeply serious. God demands forgiveness, but God gives the grace by which forgiveness occurs, and God gives time for anger and sorrow to be fully felt by the person harmed. It is cruel, therefore, to stand in for God and demand that someone forgive when we lack the supernatural grace to make that happen. It is better, in the face of such suffering, to stand in solidarity and to feel pity that for now perhaps a person cannot forgive.
“Father forgive/release them, for they know not what they do.” Strangely, in the normal trials in which forgiveness is needed, the person released is not primarily the offending party, but the person offended. The grip of a past sorrow, hurt, offense, or even attack may with time and grace loosen and then free a person to go on with life, and with new hope. But, let’s be clear. Forgiving and forgetting do not belong together, if the latter means pretending that “it” never happened. Part of being released, however, may be a new freedom from an obsessive replay of previous hurt. (The Living Church)
Look into the past. So much good flows into the present. So much sorrow and hurt spoil the life we might have. Let God do it. Let the God of storms breathe over the waters of pain and hatred and vengeance. Emerging from baptismal water by God’s grace, we are forgiven and forgiving and free.
By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world. Nobody does that kind of thing better, of course, than God. Who could imagine 2,000 years ago that the symbol of the Christian church would be a hangman’s noose, an electric chair, a guillotine? Those analogies may be necessary for us to keep from being too sentimental about “the old, rugged cross.” A cross is a terrible thing. It was indeed a symbol of suffering and shame. Humanity nailed God’s own Son on a cross. What barbarity! What unspeakable evil! Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I may find our salvation. That is what God can do with forgiveness. What can you do? (King Duncan, Collected Sermons,www.Sermons.com)
Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, the cross we adore, the cross we wear, and the cross that we are sent to carry to follow Jesus is the CROSS of FORGIVENESS.
So, if we claim to be Christ followers, we should learn to forgive – and forgive without any condition or reservation. There is no such thing as “I forgive you, but I will not forget”.
To forgive is to enter in to Christ’s crucifixion with him. As he bore the pain of our sins, we are now asked to bear the pain of other’s offenses against us. Forgiving is hard because it’s a cross. But that cross leads us to our Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace and reconciliation with God and with each other. As God freely forgives us, so He requires that we extend what we have received to others. A forgiven soul should be a forgiving soul. With God’s love and power, forgiveness is always possible. Forgiving and forgiveness can bring healing and release for our burdened souls.
Let us pray.
O God, because without you we are not able to please you: mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ECP-BCP Proper 19 Collect)