Seems that Jesus is pretty hard-core when it comes to forgiveness.
In Sunday’s reading from Matthew, Peter asks Jesus how many times we must forgive a brother or sister. He’s looking for some limits, but he wants to be generous, so Peter picks a pretty big number . . . do we forgive as many as seven times? Nope. Jesus tells him instead to forgive seventy-seven times. Really? Who would bother to count that long? Then, Jesus tells a tough parable where a slave is forgiven an outlandishly large debt by the king, then demands payment of a much smaller debt from another slave. The king’s harsh response is surprising, coming from Jesus, and makes it clear to us that forgiveness matters to God. And that God would like forgiveness to matter to us.
Parables are designed to get our attention. Using everyday elements, they teach us something unexpected and difficult. As you already know, forgiveness is not always easy. The anger and disappointment we feel when someone wrongs us can be hard to let go. It may seem unreasonable not to seek restitution or revenge. Or just to seek justice. Well, the parable reminds us that we are forgiven. Which means we can forgive others.
Of course, it’s never as simple as that. Forgiving someone often takes time, and may come in stages. When we forgive, we still hold people accountable for the results of their actions. Yet, forgiveness frees us to move on, to set aside the brokenness and struggle. To begin again, free to see the ways others need mercy, too.
Jesus’ exaggeration in this parable gets our attention, but don’t mistake hyperbole for an actual threat. God forgives. Period. God’s overwhelming love for you means forgiveness is unlimited and unconditional. The realization of God’s forgiving embrace helps us learn to forgive each other.
God of all healing,
You forgive me.
Before I regret what I have done.
Before I ask you to.
Sometimes before I even realize I need to be forgiven.
Thank you for each new beginning.
Thank you for the healing and renewal.
Thank you for loving me so much you don’t give up and go away.
Help me when I struggle to forgive my companions.
When I want to hold my anger.
When I want revenge.
Help me to see others with your eyes.
Eyes of love and mercy.
Eyes of compassion and healing.
Fill me with the strength and the love to forgive.
And walk with me while I try.