Lord, we pray for the courage and the strength of faith to forgive one another as you did.
It is one thing to know and to believe that the central mission of Jesus was the salvation of the world and that that salvation was won through his unspeakable sacrifice and ultimate forgiveness on the Cross. It is yet another to live that same salvific mission in our own lives, with those who offend, or hurt us. And it is yet another thing to seek out the forgiveness of another when it is our actions, or words that do the wounding damage to another.
If you accept the challenge to do a deep dive into the question of forgiveness and to learn more about its importance, and its effects, open up the 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and sink your teeth into what he writes about dealing with a brother who sins against you in verses 15-20, and then in the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” in verses, 21-35. Read and contemplate these passages in relation to your own life. They are, after all, meant to be taken personally and to be applied personally. What is the value of the gospels if we do not try to live their truth out in our own daily lives?
We hear in Mt. 18: 15-17, a very practical approach to bringing about a reconciliation with a brother or sister who has injured us in some way. Of course, the unspoken reality here is that we can not even begin this process if we do not love God first and our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus did and still does. The desire for forgiveness and its healing effects is a matter of love after all. We are told by Jesus here to approach the brother or sister privately, one on one, alone, and “tell him [or her] his fault between you.” If the brother or sister listens, you have “won over your brother” again. This is reason for joy, not just for you, but for your brother or sister for your relationship is whole again. And the experience of forgiveness increases our love for one another.
If you are not listened to, Jesus gives two more means to achieve the hoped for dream of reconciliation: “bring one or two others with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (verse 16). If that doesn’t work, take the matter and your brother to the church for its counsel in the matter. If that fails, though the sadness remains, you can say you have done what was necessary. You can then give it over to God and his mercy, for it is beyond you. And you can continue to pray for your brother or sister. In this you will have honored both their freedom and your love.
To emphasize the difficulty and, yet, the powerful importance that the Father puts on the act of forgiveness that Jesus gives us the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant to consider (Mt. 18: 21-35). It begins with Peter asking the question that hides in the back of every one of our minds; “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (v. 21). And here comes the line we must pay absolute attention to. Jesus says, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” In other words, infinitely. This is how Jesus forgives us and he calls on us to do the same.
In the parable, we see a servant who owes his master a huge amount of debt. He can not pay it back, so the master orders that he, and his family, and all of his goods be sold to cover the debt. The master hears the servant’s desperate appeals for patience and, “moved by compassion”, generously forgives the debt. We see that servant then turn around and demand a debt payment owed to him by a fellow servant. But he refuses to hear his fellow servant’s appeals for patience and orders him to be “put in prison until he paid back the debt” (v. 30). We are challenged here to ask ourselves how often do we think and act like this thankless servant, placing ourselves above the other and considering only our own emotions, or desires, at the expense of even destroying our relationships?
The master hears about this and summons the thankless servant back to him and has him put in jail until his entire debt is paid, a debt which is even greater now for his lack of forgiveness toward his fellow servant. And then we hear the words that should chill each of us to the bone: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother [sister] from his heart” (v. 35). These words are intimately pointed at each of us. That is how important, weighty, and necessary it is for us to begin, with God’s grace, to live this level of forgiveness out in our daily lives. Lord, we pray for the courage and the strength of faith to forgive one another as you did. The health and salvation of our relationships at every level depend on this.SKM: below-content placeholder