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Pastor's Notes from The Scribe (July 2014)

posted Jul 2, 2014, 12:06 PM by Punxsy Area Lutheran Parish Pastor

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.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22

Is there really a number to how often we should forgive someone?  This passage from Matthew’s Gospel indicates that there is no limit to forgiveness.  Sure, Jesus states a number when Peter asks the question, “How often should I forgive?”  Nevertheless, I think Jesus’ point is that we cannot put a limit on forgiveness.  Just when we think we know what the limits to forgiveness are, Jesus pushes us one step further.  We should show mercy and forgiveness in all situations and at all times.

Our culture, however, does not really lift up forgiveness (in fact, I don’t know a culture that ever really did in the history of the world – but let me know if I am wrong).  Forgiveness is a virtue of the kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of this world.  The world’s answer to the wrongs done against us is retaliation and vengeance.  We want to answer hurt with hurt, suffering with more suffering, pain for pain.  We feel that, if the one who wronged us gets his/her comeuppance, we will feel satisfied and vindicated.  Betrayal, anger, frustration, and hurt seem to be much easier to hold onto than moving towards acts of forgiveness and mercy.  Yet, revenge, vengeance and retaliation only leads to a vicious cycle that never seems to end.  It only ends when we move towards forgiveness and mercy.

Even from the cross, Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus showed forgiveness and mercy to the crowds, soldiers, and political leaders who handed him over, had him beaten and stripped, and nailed him to the cross.  Jesus truly forgave all who crucified him and all who continue to crucify him.  Jesus forgives those persons who hurt us and Jesus will forgive us when we cause others pain.  Jesus will forgive us when we are incapable of showing mercy and forgiveness.  The point is: Jesus forgives and Jesus calls us to radical forgiveness.

Does this mean we do not hold people culpable for their actions?  No, I do not think so.  People do need to be held accountable for the hurtful actions they do to others. What it does mean is that we try to understand why people do the things they do.  What it does mean is that we show love and mercy by forgiving them.  What it does mean is that, if we knew the person who wronged us, we do not shun and ignore the person.  Forgiveness is about healing – healing the person who did the wrong and healing the relationship that was broken because of the wrong.  But forgiveness can only come by taking Jesus’ words seriously, allowing him to heal our pain, and moving us to have forgiving hearts. 

Joan Chittister writes, “Because history shows us that the church is a sinful church, it is the very place in which we should be able to find the greatest degree of mercy, of understanding, of compassion, of non-judgmentalism” (God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness, p.13).  Our mission as the Church is to show the radical nature of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love for this world.  We can demonstrate this radical nature of God by demonstrating radical forgiveness and love towards one another. 

 In Christ ~ Pastor Maureen        

 Prayer: Lord God, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Amen.

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