Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord if another member of the Church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
—Matthew 18: 21-22
What does this lesson mean? Does it mean, as many of us have heard, that you are to forgive no matter what someone does to you? Does it mean that in a life where abuse, dishonesty, and exploitation are common, that we look the other way?
That's not what Jesus was saying. Jesus is reminding us that forgiveness is costly. It's costly because it requires relationship, and relationship means communication. Too often we equate forgiveness with forgetting and acting as if nothing happened. But the costly forgiveness that Jesus claims is restoration of the image of God in each of us.
That works both ways. We too must seek forgiveness by communicating how we have wronged another, asking for forgiveness, and enduring the difficulty of healing the relationship. Jesus' way is the only path toward understanding the past in the context of the whole.
For the writer of Matthew's gospel, this understanding is central to the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Matthew, Jesus has already brought the kingdom of heaven among us. As his followers, we are to manifest that kingdom to others. But doing so requires costly reconciliation in our daily walk.
When we are able to allow forgiveness to come our way, we reveal something of the Kingdom of Heaven to all those around us. When we take the bold and difficult steps necessary to nurture relationships that celebrate each person's gifts, we reveal what God intended from the foundations of the earth.
Let forgiveness into your life by engaging with others you have hurt, seeking to communicate clearly, and asking forgiveness openly and honestly. Practice daily self examination and confess your faults against others as soon as you see them. And as you face squarely into the difficulty of such honesty, you will find yourself looking into the face of God.
Gracious God, help me to examine my life, confess my faults, and seek forgiveness in all things. Help me to seek your face, and in all relationships, to allow your forgiving grace to reconcile me toward your kingdom on earth. Amen.
Copyright ©2009 Michael R. Sullivan.