Last week we were thinking about loosing and binding. We were challenged with some questions, and I quote: ‘So, we are called to mirror on earth the wholeness and healing of heaven. As a Christian community we are called to ask ourselves difficult, but essential questions: How can we bind ourselves closer to each other, to the world, to God? What bridges can we build? What reconciliation do we need to initiate? What can we hold together that is falling apart? What might we each do to liberate one another? What do we need to let go for flourishing to happen?’
Our reading this week follows directly on from last week’s. Peter asks how many times he must forgive someone who sins against him. Forgiveness is an essential element of our lives as we follow Christ. It feeds into all of the above questions. And yet it has been misunderstood and misused over the centuries. Like every good thing from God, some people find a way to corrupt and abuse it.
Forgiveness doesn’t excuse a wrong. It doesn’t allow someone to repeat it, or to hurt others with impunity. The memory of a wrong will remain with us, but forgiveness loosens and releases its pain so that it doesn’t keep hurting us again and again every time we remember it.
Even if someone doesn’t say they are sorry, or show any remorse, we can forgive them in our hearts by allowing God’s justice to prevail. When we believe that everyone will have to face up to what we’ve done, and we know the embarrassment of our own sin before we confess and receive God’s forgiveness, we can be sure that those who have sinned against us will know that same torment. Some translations of this passage use the word torment rather than torture, which perhaps better describes the process. We can trust in God to ensure that true justice will be done.
To forgive means to loosen our hold on such feelings as vengeance, bitterness and hatred, and to bind us together in the love of God - even when it means that we can’t trust someone sufficiently to live closely with them, and even when it means imprisoning someone so that they can’t physically hurt others any more. It’s not easy to forgive some people, as it’s not easy to love some people, but nobody said following Jesus would be easy.
As we remember this week the 19th anniversary of the 911 attacks, and the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, we can see how bearing grudges and passing them on to future generations may ultimately result in further outbreaks of evil.
Forgiveness binds people together in love, it builds bridges as it initiates reconciliation, it holds together what is falling apart, it liberates us, and it allows all people to flourish. We forgive from the heart. Forgiveness is an outpouring of love, the love of God for us, and our love for one another. There’s no end to how many times we can forgive, because there’s no limit on love. It doesn’t end.
God is able to bring something good out from every evil, as long as we love and trust in him. Let us, like Joseph, reassure and speak kindly to one another, as God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s love one another generously, and mirror on earth the wholeness and healing of heaven. Amen.