The Power of Love: Forgiveness
Romans 14:1-12 Sept. 13, 2020 Matthew 18:21-35
Part of what it means to be HUMAN is to be vulnerable—to live with the possibility of being hurt by other people. I don’t need to ask if you have ever been hurt, because our vulnerability means that, occasionally, WE WILL BE HURT. It’s part of the human condition. And the antidote to that hurt is simple (and, at the same time, often very difficult.) The antidote to hurt is forgiveness.
It’s been said that when a person wrongs you, it puts you BOTH in a prison. That’s the bad news. But the GOOD news is that a key to the prison is available to you, should you choose to use it! That key is forgiveness, and if you choose to use the key of forgiveness, then BOTH of you can walk out of that prison!
Our Scripture readings for today both deal with the concept of forgiveness. In Romans, Paul is urging us to deal mercifully with other Christians—not allowing different beliefs to cause divisions in the Body of Christ; and refusing to pass judgment on other believers. “Refusing to pass judgment” is one facet of FORGIVENESS, one that requires a good deal of grace on our part…because another part of the human condition is our tendency to divide the world into “them” and “us.” Sometimes, we make ourselves feel better about “us” by putting “them” down! Paul warns that you and I must not judge others because we are ALL going to stand before the judgment seat of God. And God is the only one who can truly judge.
So, if a person has an annoying habit or an irritable personality or an “unenlightened belief” or whatever it is—you and I are called to forgive them. Forgive them for their lack of social skills; forgive them for their insistence that THEIR way is the only right way; forgive them, Paul says. Make the choice to put them in God’s hands.
Now, in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we have record of a specific conversation between Peter and Jesus regarding the importance of forgiving others—especially other believers. Peter begins, “Lord, if another believer sins against me, how often should I forgive? (Then he makes an effort to be extra generous.) Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
Then Jesus blows him out of the water by saying, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times!” (That kind of blows ME out of the water as well!)
Jesus then follows with a parable about a king who was settling things up with his slaves, and one of them owed him ten thousand talents. That may not seem like a huge amount of money, but in today’s dollars it is many, many millions of dollars! It is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination! Jesus uses this figure to indicate that the debt was enormous—something so HUGE there was no possibility of repayment! The king was making arrangements to have the slave and his whole family sold to help repay the debt, and the slave fell on his knees and begged the king to give him time to repay. (How long would that have taken?!)
Instead, the King had pity on him. (There’s that same word that appeared in the story of Moses, when Pharaoh’s daughter pitied the little baby found floating in a basket, and changed history because of that pity.) In this story that Jesus is telling, the King’s pity moved him to completely forgive the debt! (Friends, the first hearers of this parable would have been astounded at the enormity of the forgiveness here!) The King forgave the debt, and that would have been a good story. But it continues.
That forgiven slave came upon another slave who owed him 100 denarii (roughly $1500). He grabbed him by the throat and demanded that he pay what he owed. This fellow slave did the same thing the first one did—fell on his knees and begged for time to repay. But the first slave had the second one thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.
Of course, this ungrateful behavior scandalized all the other slaves, and they informed the King of what had happened. And, of course, the King blew up at this slave, calling him wicked and reminding him of the huge debt he had forgiven. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?!” And he was handed over for punishment until he could pay his entire debt. (Again—how long would it take a slave to repay millions of dollars?!) Jesus finishes, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it seems he was thinking of this very story, this very command when he urged them, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
—Forgive as the Lord forgave you.—
—Refuse to pass judgment on your brother or sister.—
[One note of clarification: forgiving someone and refusing to pass judgment on them does NOT mean that they will not suffer the consequences of their actions! When someone does something terrible, they will pay (one way or another). But you will have chosen to relinquish your desire for revenge, and thus you will be freed. Forgiveness will set you free. And a second note: If you find yourself unable to forgive, that’s okay. Just put the person into God’s hands in prayer. Give them to God, and trust that God will do all that is necessary in them and in you!]
Last week, we talked about how Speaking the Truth in Love is an appropriate way to build up the Body of Christ. But because of our natural propensity to have friction with each other, forgiveness also is required to build up the Body of Christ. The capacity to forgive is a God-given gift. Remember when Jesus was teaching the Disciples to pray? He included a line that says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And he followed with an explanation: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
The key to our prison is forgiveness, and when we decide to follow Christ’s command to FORGIVE, we will be set free from our prison. God has had mercy on us, and God wants us to have mercy on others.
Does that mean we cease our efforts to fight their evil actions? NO! It just means that we release the poison of revenge and hatred that is killing us, and we make a conscious choice to forgive—to put our wrongdoers into God’s hands. Paul sums it up best in Romans 12: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Isn’t that what forgiveness is? Overcoming evil with good!
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
- Forgive as the Lord forgave you;
- Refuse to pass judgment on your brother or sister
Let me conclude by bringing this home for us. All this talk about forgiveness sounds fine when we talk about it as an abstract concept. But last Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and what was meant to be the destruction of the White House. The terms “Nine-Eleven” and “September Eleventh” have now entered our lexicon, have now become representative of how America deals with devastation and loss.
I have heard it said that, when we refuse to be beaten, when we insist on living in freedom without caving in to the terrorists’ efforts to make us cower in fear, then we have victory over those terrorists. And there is a great deal of truth in those words. But friends, there is a much bigger victory toward which I want to urge us.”lt’s a victory of forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we pretend that it never happened. It doesn’t mean that we relax our vigilance toward those who wish to harm us. It just means this: IF you and I can visualize these terrorists as poor, deluded people who have been whipped into a tragic fever of destruction—if we can choose to forgive those who have wronged us, then we will have the ultimate victory!