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
There is no calculating when it comes to forgiveness, and Jesus knew that, of course. After this response to Peter, Jesus tells a parable about a man who was forgiven an astronomical debt, but who then turned around and refused to forgive another person a small sum. (Matthew 18: 22-34).
The point of the parable is that if we do not deeply understand how much we have been and are forgiven, we cannot truly forgive someone else.
Some things are much easier to forgive; when a person is always late to meet us, or forgets appointments with us, for example, we can work at forgiveness in various ways.
The best is to express how we feel, and either accept that the person just doesn’t understand time issues, or make the friendship work another way. Simply ignoring the problem is NOT forgiveness; it is evasion!
Serious, deep personal betrayals are another matter. If someone steals from your business, if someone steals from your home, if someone harms your child…these are the issues that tear the fabric of our hearts. There is no pat formula for forgiveness in these situations.
What I think we are asked to do, as people of faith, is to allow ourselves to FEEL what we feel: rage, anguish, heart-breaking grief. And then, when we are ready, we might gently recall the times we have been forgiven ourselves.
Maybe we have never done anything comparable to what has been done to us, but on some level, we have all been forgiven, and most of us for very serious things. As hard as it is, that is what we are ultimately asked to remember in order to try to forgive another who has deeply harmed us.
Aware of God’s grace in our lives, we realize how it feels to be forgiven, and then, gradually, we may be able to give that grace to someone else. It is not easy but we are asked to at least try. There are amazing stories of people who have forgiven the deepest hurts imaginable.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen.
Copyright ©2005 Margaret Jones.