Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The story Jesus tells in our gospel in response to the question he’s asked about how often one should forgive begins with amazing grace. A master forgives the debt of his slave after the slave begs for mercy. Then the story goes all wrong when the same slave shows no pity for a fellow slave who owes him money and throws him in jail. When the master hears what has happened he sends the first slave to be tortured. What could have been a wonderful story of grace passed from one to the other is destroyed. This is what happens when we choose not to pass on that amazing almost incomprehensive gift of forgiveness from God to others.
Forgiving is one of the most challenging actions we undertake. Many have asked, “How can I forgive a person, whom I already forgave and let back in my life, only to be betrayed again?” I tell them forgiveness does not always mean letting someone back into our lives. The model we learned from our teachers on the playground to say sorry and go back to playing just doesn’t work in many situations. “Forgive and forget” perhaps makes light of what is involved in true forgiveness.
I appreciate the list of what forgiveness is not in The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. They write, “Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is not weakness. Forgiveness does not subvert justice. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is not quick.”
But then what is forgiveness? I don’t have enough time here to really explore this question, but maybe we can start with this: Forgiveness is moving towards healing the hurt someone has caused and not letting it hold you captive. Forgiveness is working towards love even though that love may be from afar. Forgiveness is doing the hard work of passing on the grace given to us by God and not having it end in destruction as it did in the Gospel.
We are forgiven people – generously forgiven by God. Seventy seven times Jesus says. Even when forgiveness seems impossible, ask God to help you take that next step towards forgiveness in your heart.
I want to be willing to let go, to forgive.
But dare not ask for the will to forgive,
in case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready.
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften.
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again.
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey.
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive.
Grant it to me not yet but soon
Can I even form the words?
Forgive me? Dare I event look?
Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused:
I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing
That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope
But only out of the corner of my eye.
I am afraid of it.
And if I am afraid to see
How can I not be afraid to say: Forgive me?
Is there a place where we can meet?
You and me
The place in the middle where we straddle the lines
Where you are right and I am right too.
And both of us are wrong and wronged
Can we meet there?
And look for the place where the path begins
The path that ends when we forgive.
The Prayer Before the Prayer, The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu