After teaching of the breakdown in relationships and how they can be rebuilt, as we read last week, Jesus, in Matthew 18:21-35, moves on to forgiveness; another step in the restoration of a damaged relationship.
It is a passage which opens with Peter asking the question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me”? (18:21).
While we know that we are encouraged to forgive one another, it doesn’t always come easily to us. For Peter, however, while he was willing to forgive, it appears he was placing a limit on that forgiveness.
With the orthodox teaching at the time being that if someone sins, they could be forgiven up to three times, Peter would have thought he was being very generous by suggesting, “Up to seven times”? (18:21)
He must have been taken aback at Jesus’ answer, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). In other words, for Jesus, it was unlimited forgiveness.
He goes on to explain what forgiveness is like in the kingdom of heaven by telling a story of a king who summoned his servants to settle their debts with him.
One servant owed the king a fantastic sum of money, today it would be measured in millions of pounds, but which he had no hope of ever repaying.
The man pled his case and the king, out of love and mercy, cancelled the debt. He left, a free man with a clean slate.
That’s what God’s forgiveness looks like. It is complete and undeserved. It looks nothing like the kind of forgiveness of the world.
But that’s only half the story. The other half has to do with our response to God's forgiveness in our personal relationships. Look what happens next.
When this man, in turn, met someone who owed him a trifling amount of money, but was unable to pay, he showed no love or mercy.
Even though the debt was what we would think of in terms of pocket money, he had him thrown in prison; there was no understanding or forgiveness, only a hard heart.
At the core of this passage is the forgiving nature of God. His mercy, His grace, His love and forgiveness knows no limits. For that we can only be eternally grateful.
Who amongst us has never made mistakes, or regretted words spoken, or an action taken; things that caused upset and even hurt? And often the ones we hurt or who hurt us are the those closest to us, friends, family and even church family.
We are human and we fall from time to time; but always there is forgiveness. We ask God to forgive, and He does! Like the man who was forgiven a massive debt by the king, we are freed from our past wrongs and can get on with life afresh.
But, when the shoe is on the other foot, how forgiving are we? While we can thank God for his forgiveness and his grace, are we able to forgive others who may have wronged us in the past?
Or do we only partially let go of that wrong but, deep down, continue to hold on to the memory. When that happens, through time, love gets displaced by loathing for the person who wronged us.
Yet, we are called to forgive, of that there is no doubt. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God’s forgiveness, ‘forgive us our debts’, immediately followed with, ‘as we forgive our debtors’. (Matthew 6:12)
But, when we have been hurt, really hurt, forgiving others can be hard. We might even feel it impossible, and in our own strength we struggle.
Forgiveness cannot be done through our own strength, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we ask God to help us forgive others, and to show mercy and grace towards others, we can find ourselves in the position to love those individuals once again.
We can find ourselves offering love instead of hate. Grace instead of condemnation. Mercy instead of unforgiveness!
Forgiveness doesn't come easy, it takes sacrifice. It took sacrifice for God to give us life! It took sacrifice for God to give us Mercy! It took sacrifice on a cruel cross for us to receive forgiveness! As we are forgiven by God, let God enable us to forgive others.
Lord God, our Heavenly Father, you are the source of all goodness and love. You are our constant companion, sharing in our hopes and dreams, consoling us when we are in trouble, ever ready to help us when our strength fails.
In your strength, you lift us up. In your love, you draw us closer. May we always keep our heart and our life open to you.
God of Mercy, we thank you for your love which forgives us again and again. Your forgiveness is so complete that you are prepared to trust us with the care of your people; even after we have let you down so many times.
And, as we who are forgiven, in turn forgive others, help us not to hold onto grudges or bitterness of past events. Teach us to lovingly care for one and another’s needs with humility, compassion and sensitivity.
Amen, and as we go into a new week, may we go with God’s blessing.