Today we continue our look at Matthew 18 and the subject of forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus how many times we must forgive and some of us make not like the answer! Jesus replies 77 times! If you’ve ever been wronged in a serious way, forgiving someone once might be difficult, but 77 times. That is something that many of us might have great difficulty with.
Scripture: Matthew 18: 21-35
A young black man sat in the witness stand of a courtroom in Dallas, speaking to the white woman on trial, Amber Guyger, an ex-police officer who had just been convicted of murdering his beloved older brother, Botham Jean, in his own apartment. She had entered Botham’s apartment by mistake, thinking it was hers, mistook him for an intruder, and shot him in the chest.
At her trial a year later, Botham’s heartbroken younger brother Brandt took the stand and told Amber that he forgave her, that he wanted only the best for her, and that he wanted her to give her life to Christ, something that he said Botham would have wanted as well.
And then, after asking permission from the judge and to the astonishment of all present, Brandt walked across the courtroom and embraced the woman who killed his brother. She clung to him, sobbing (video.) It was an incredibly moving and courageous example of forgiveness.
That happened only last October. (Kathryn Schifferdecker) We all know what has happened in the weeks and months since as racial violence in the United States and here in Canada has come under the microscope.
I’m not sure I could have done that. I don’t know if in that moment, at that time I could have acted with the same grace and conviction as that young man did. I don’t know if I could have offered that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is hard. And yet, forgiveness is part of our identity as Christians. Hanging on the cross Jesus cries out, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The need to offer forgiveness doesn’t get any clearer than that. But you and I both know that it isn’t that easy. If it was, the world would be a much better place, however we have a terribly difficult time forgiving people.
There are some important things to remember about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness does not remove consequences.
- Forgiveness does not its alright for injustice or oppression to continue.
- Repentance is a part of forgiveness.
The disciples ask Jesus about forgiveness. It’s Peter who asks, which is rather ironic. It seems Peter would rather do the minimum amount of forgiving possible, which is ironic when you consider the forgiveness Peter will require when he denies knowing Jesus. So, Peter asks Jesus if forgiving someone seven times is enough. I can almost imagine Jesus chuckling before he replies, “No, not seven, but seventy-seven.”
And I can imagine Peter’s eyes rolling back in his head, see him stagger back a few paces as the implications of that answer hit him, because forgiveness is hard. I am sure that each of you either has or is aware of a friendship, possibly even a family relationship which has never healed because there is no desire for forgiveness. The hurt is simply too deep to desire healing or the work required for reconciliation is simply too difficult. So, we don’t forgive and we walk around as damaged people, haunted by a past hurt. We know we are haunted by it, because it colours our perception of that person and we often have difficulty letting go of the hurt. We constantly talk about the injustice that was done to us. It haunts us.
The parable that Jesus tells about the kingdom of God that follows makes the case the forgiveness is central to our identity as Christians. The unmerciful servant has had his own debt forgiven, but then moments later demands that someone who owes him pay him back immediately and uses violence to make the point. God wants us to forgive. God forgave us and God wishes for us to act with the same grace and mercy.
A final story: Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian woman who was imprisoned in the Ravensbruck concentration camp for hiding Jews in her home. She lost her beloved sister at the camp but after the war, she traveled around Europe, preaching the Christian gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation. She writes of an encounter with a former guard from Ravensbruck whom she recognized at a talk she gave at a German church in 1947. He came up to her afterwards, told her that he had become a Christian, that he knew God had forgiven him, but he wanted to ask for her forgiveness. He held out his hand but she felt nothing but anger for him.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then (From The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom).
I pray that each of us may have the same ability to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us and that we may also find the grace to forgive ourselves. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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