Jesus replied, “Not, seven, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
We have a tendency in our culture that when someone does wrong to us to do one of two things – we either hold a grudge; trying to win some argument about why that person is some kind of scoundrel, or we say something pathetic like “that’s ok” and let them walk all over us.
At home we have been trying to work on this with our kids for a long time. Children fight and argue, someone’s feelings get hurt, and sometimes they actually get clunked. Sometimes there are tears, or shouts, or slammed doors, or all three. As parents we look at each other with that look that says, “are you fielding it this time? These loving, kind-hearted, faith-filled young people are at each other’s throats…again.” All of us have something to learn about forgiveness.
A lesson we keep repeating is – when you hurt me it is not ok. Nor is it ok for me to hurt you. We should drop “that’s ok” from our lexicon, unless we really mean to say, “Yes,
it really is ok with me that you hit me in the face with whatever that is.” We need to be clear when someone hurts us to say, “No, it is not ok for you to do that to me.” If we don’t what we are unintentionally saying is that it is ok.
Calling someone else a scoundrel really doesn’t help things either. As far as arguing goes – if you are the only one in an argument – you always lose. (Does the other person even realize you are fighting with them?) Besides, stern judgment against another person really glosses over the scoundrels that we ourselves can be at times. Jesus said it best, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). At camp we did a skit once where a person walked around holding to pieces of firewood up to their eyes while telling everyone else what horrible people they were. Think about how foolish that looks. When we hurt one another, in word or action, Jesus teaches us to repent – not just to apologize, but to turn-around from the way we are going.
There is a second part to repentance – offering forgiveness. Jesus calls us to forgive each other as he has forgiven us. Forgiveness is not forgetting, nor is it permitting mistreatment to continue – it is releasing a debt, something that cannot be paid back. Jesus told Peter a story right after he said to forgive each other seventy-seven times…A king had a servant who owned him more money than he could ever repay, and rather than seek retribution; in mercy he forgave his servant the entire debt. However, this same servant took to task someone who owed him a much smaller amount, and as a result the servant was judged harshly (Matthew 18:23-35). God forgives us – and calls to forgive each other too. We are to use these sacred words as if from God, “I forgive you.”
In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us as we forgive others.” We can hear this in two ways – the first accuses of us of not being able to forgive; the second gives us assurance when we do.
Martin Luther put it like this – “If you forgive, you have comfort and assurance that you are forgiven in heaven – not on account of your forgiving (for God does it altogether freely, out of pure grace, because he has promised it, as the gospel teaches) but instead because he has set this up for our strengthening and assurance as a sign along with the promise that matches this petition in Luke 6:37, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Therefore Christ repeats it immediately after the Lord’s Prayer saying in Matthew 6:14, “If you forgive others their trespass, your heavenly Father also forgives you.” Therefore, this sign is attached to the petition so that when we pray we may recall the promise and think, ‘Dear Father, I come to you and pray that you will forgive me for this reason: not because I can make satisfaction or deserve anything by my works, but because you have promised and set your seal on it, making it as certain as if I had received absolution pronounced by yourself.’ For whatever baptism and the Lord’s supper, which are appointed to us as outward signs , can affect, this sign can as well, in order to strengthen and gladden our conscience. Moreover, above and beyond other signs, it has been instituted precisely so that we can practice it every hour, keeping it with us at all times.” (Martin Luther, “Large Catechism,” Book of Concord. trans. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], Lord’s Prayer, 5th Petition, 453.)
Practice forgiveness. Keep it with you at all times. This mercy is sign, given and sealed by God for us to use. It is a promise with everyday implications. In fact, I think I heard something crash in the other room.
Peace, Pastor Geoff
Who should you forgive?
From whom do you need forgiveness?
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
Luther’s Small Catechism: (Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1164.)
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good daily to those who sin against us.