Forgiving those who have hurt us is as vitally important for each of us as it is for the person who is forgiven
If we are unforgiving and hold grudges we will damage our health, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Anger and hate directed towards those who have hurt us won’t change them. They may not even be aware of our negative feelings. Lack of forgiveness will poison us.
Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer asks us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We forgive because we want to be forgiven
What is forgiveness and why is it so important? Does it mean letting people off when they have committed atrocious crimes?
Letting people carry on sinning is not the loving thing to do. We need to keep people safe and protect them from evil. We are accountable to God, to each other and to our community for the things we do wrong. It is right that perpetrator’s of evil undergo the just sanctions of our legal system. Jesus makes this absolutely clear in this passage when the unforgiving slave is thrown into torment.
When Peter asked how many times he should forgive someone from church who had sinned against him and suggested seven times, he thought he was being generous. The Rabbis limited it to three times.
Forgiveness is tough. When we are hurt repeatedly, we want those who have let us down to know how it feels. We are often filled with negativity, anger, hate and shame. Our hearts cry out for justice.
Those abused or bullied within a church service which is supposed to keep them safe and cover them with love feel particularly let down.
Their faith in God as well as their faith in humanity is challenged.
Jesus, however doesn’t agree with Peter and the Jewish Rabbis that there is a limit to forgiveness. He tells Peter we must forgive seventy times seven times.
Sometimes, particular hurts and sins keep flashing back into our consciousness, warping the way we see the world and causing us to feel the hurt all over again.
If we have suffered major physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or have been betrayed through divorce or by workmates, the changes in our circumstances can last a lifetime.
We have to find a way of living with the injustice. We may need to keep forgiving the same sin time and time again throughout our lives.
Forgiveness is intentional.
When we are consumed by hate and anger, we need to remind ourselves that God loves both us and the offender, let go of what is hurting us and hold onto his love. We need to redirect our thinking and look forward in hope and trust.
We voluntarily, with God’s help change our feelings and attitude towards the offender.
Sometimes it is in the best interests of both the offender and victim to never see each other again. Whether reconciliation is possible or not, forgiveness implies replacing the negative emotions with positive attitudes and an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning excusing, forgetting, pardoning and restoration of a relationship.
As human beings we are more than the sins we commit and our lives should not be determined by the offences committed against us. They are only part of our stories.
This is revealed in the story of Joseph. Jealous of their brother for being their father’s favourite, Josephs’ brothers plotted to kill him. They threw him down a well and when slave traders passed by sold him. They deceived their father, telling him Joseph had been killed by wild animals and kept the guilty secret for years until hunger forced them to go to Egypt for food.
They deserved to be put on trial and condemned.
Joseph suffered much but had risen up the ranks of slaves until he was second only to the Pharaoh himself. He had shown himself to be truthful, conscientious and faithful to the God of Israel.
When his brothers came to Egypt for food he recognised them. Instead of punishing them, he fed them.
Fearing that once their father had died, Joseph might take his revenge, they approached him and told him that before he died his father had asked them to ask him for forgiveness. They named what they did as a crime. They had wronged Joseph.
Joseph forgave them from his heart. He wept and his brothers also wept. They had lost so much through what had happened.
Josephs’ brothers knelt before him ready to be slaves but Joseph raised them up. He recognised that he was in the place of God, being what God wanted him to be, ready to do what God wanted him to do.
“Though you intended to harm me” he said, “God intended it for good.”
God’s grace and forgiveness is dependent upon us having soft, forgiving hearts. Jesus says we must forgive from our hearts.
Forgiving is the godly thing to do. We are called to be tender hearted and kind because God in Christ forgave us. Jesus was even able to have empathy for those who had crucified him. “Forgive them, he said, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Many are unaware of the consequences of offences they commit.
When Jesus was saying we must forgive seventy times seven times, he was saying forgiveness is the perfect, complete thing to do in the light of eternity because the number seven signified perfection, completeness and rest.
Jesus was also reversing the vengeance, hate and corruption that has taken place throughout history since Cain murdered his brother. God pronounced seven fold vengeance on whoever killed Cain, mercifully preserving his life despite what he had done. Lamech pronounced vengeance and hate seventy-seven-fold for anyone who might kill Lamech.
Only God’s forgiveness can save humankind. The only way people are going to see God’s love is through us.
In certain contexts, forgiveness is a legal term for absolving or giving up all claims on account of debt, loan, obligation, or other claims.
Much harm is done through structural and institutional oppression.
Many countries and individuals are in debt as a result.
In the story of the King who forgives, Jesus speaks into our need to have compassion on those who cannot pay. The slave brought to the King owed ten thousand talents equivalent to zillions in today’s money. However patient the King was, the slave would never be able to pay it off. It was the equivalent of a working man’s wage for two hundred thousand years.
The King doesn’t give the slave a little more time as he asks. He forgives him. “The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion released him, and forgave him the debt” How free he must have felt.
Sadly, the forgiven slave went out and grabbed by the throat, someone who owed him the equivalent of a hundred working days and demanded payment. With patience, the person could pay.
The forgiven slave was not willing to wait and had him cast into prison. The friends of the imprisoned servant were sorrowful and told the King who had the forgiven slave imprisoned until he could repay.
Since that was never going to happen, he would be tortured for the rest of his life.
The slave chose to live by the worldly values of exploitation and domination even though he had been shown mercy.
We are called to live by the loving, forgiving values of God’s Kingdom.
Most of those countries and individuals in debt will never be able to repay what they owe.
Poverty stricken countries which have had their debts cancelled are still trapped in an unfair economic system which means they will continue to get into further debt.
We need to live differently. Living by kingdom values of forgiveness, compassion, mercy and justice we bring life and peace to others and to ourselves. Those who fail to forgive are tormented.
We all owe a debt we cannot pay. Jesus paid in full on the cross when he forgave us our sins and set us free. He calls us now freely forgive and set others free.