The Rev. Melissa Hollerith
Then Peter came and said to him, “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. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In this passage from Matthew, Peter asks a question that is our question too on the limits of forgiveness. He says, “Lord, how many times should I forgive? Seven?” And of course Jesus answers him and says, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” That is Jesus’ way of saying infinity. Jesus is in essence saying don’t put limits on your forgiveness because God has not put limits on forgiveness and mercy toward you.
In The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says that unless we move toward the work of forgiving the person, even when we think the person does not deserve our forgiveness, there will not be mental health for us. There won’t be spiritual health either. It can consume us and affect not just our mental health, but also our physical health. C.S. Lewis tried to make a distinction for us between forgiving and excusing. If someone knocks me accidentally and I drop a vase and it breaks, I excuse that- it didn’t hurt me that much and it was unintentional. But, if a person does something that hurts me, I only have two options. I can forgive them or not forgive them. The human condition is that we don’t want to forgive people who have wounded us.
Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, had a profound impact on me as a young person when I read it. She once heard a speech given by a person in post war Germany talking about how God had forgiven him. He put his hand out to her after the speech and said, “Sister, God has forgiven me.” She recognized him as one of the guards in the concentration camp where her sister died. She said, “I could not raise my hand to shake his, but in that awful moment, I realized how much God’s grace and mercy have been extended to me.”
Forgiveness is a process, and for those of us who want it to be logical and to be justified, it is difficult to realize it never will be like that with God. The math will never make sense. But as Corrie Ten Boom said, it becomes slightly more palatable when we stop and realize how much grace and mercy God has extended to us. For it is only through the grace of God that we can see how much God has forgiven us and so then we are able to forgive.
Heavenly Father, bless me with the power of forgiveness, give me the grace to unconditionally forgive those who have done me wrong.
Give me the strength to let go of all ill-will, the strength to forgive myself of my own failings and sins, knowing that you have already forgiven me.
I pray that you will free me from all anger, bitterness, hatred, and unforgiveness. I ask all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.