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The privilege of forgiving

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

"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 talents 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.

"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 denarii. 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 you 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 greatly distressed and went and told their master everything.

"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 turned 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 from your heart."

Unforgiveness runs in families. Parents teach their children how to hold grudges, bear resentments and become bitter, and life becomes more ugly and awful, generation after generation. Sometimes this cesspool of unforgiveness spawns crimes against people outside the family, but it guarantees misery for those within.

Forgiveness also runs in families. Parents show their pain to each other instead of holding it inside, and take the next step of forgiving each other. Their children watch this and learn how to do it themselves.

How does the forgiving habit get started in the first place, though? Jesus does not give me any option here. Seventy times seven, he says ... in other words, every time for the rest of my days. But he reframes the problem by describing my reward. The difficulty of the moment is overtaken by the joy of the morning. As I forgive I receive so much more than I give. I am rewarded for my effort. God's forgiveness pours over me like a flood, like a waterfall.

My Father shows me my failings, and forgives them. A good wash never means more than when I'm sticky and dirty and sick of it. Seen this way forgiveness is not so much a duty as a privilege, which frees me to receive God's love more than anything else I can do.

Your way of seeing us, Lord: make it my way of seeing too. As I open these new eyes, your love flows over me head to toe.



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