The Rev. Melissa Hollerith
Today’s Gospel: Matthew 18:21–35
This not a parable about financial debt. This is a story about forgiveness. It helps to have a good understanding when talking about forgiveness, and I am fond of Frederick Buechner’s definition from Wishful Thinking. He writes, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us…However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we both may carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.’” That’s forgiveness.
Peter is us in this story. He asks Jesus about forgiveness because he wants some limits set up—some guidelines as to how many times he is obligated to forgive someone. When Jesus responds to Peter with this parable, you just know Peter is ticked. I can see his expression in my mind’s eye. Peter’s face is saying clearly, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Like Peter we would like some reasonable limits. Do we have to forgive the same person for the same offense over and over infinitum? It would appear that we do.
The point Jesus is trying to make to Peter and all of us is this: There is no limit to God’s forgiveness so there should be no limit to ours.
What should be underscored though is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be accountability or responsibility for wrongdoing. And forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation.
Jesus’ teaching about unlimited forgiveness may seem unreasonable, but when we stop and think about all the grace we have received, it begins to make sense.
Melissa Hollerith +
Words by: Frederick William Faber (1814-1863)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind. If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word; and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord. Amen.