This week we will be asked to listen to the tough, but life-giving Gospel message of forgiveness. In a world of conflict, terrorism, and serious inequalities the idea of forgiveness can sound naive. But without forgiveness, we doom ourselves to repeating cycles of violence, division and scapegoating of one another.
The parable of the unforgiving servant is the centre around which all of the other readings rotate. Psalm 149 picks up this theme with a celebration of God’s forgiveness and grace, while in Romans we approach the subject from a different angle – that of not judging those who express their faith and live out the daily ramifications of faith differently from us.
“Seventy times seven” is a lot of forgiveness. Once is tough enough. Twice, almost unreasonable. Remember the adage: “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.” “Seventy times seven?”
The Forgiveness Principle Matthew 18:21-35 “Seventy times seven” is a lot of forgiveness. Once is tough enough. Twice, almost unreasonable. Remember the adage: “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.” “Seventy times seven?” Jesus advised in his dialogue with Simon Peter to keep on forgiving, he counselled, even when forgiveness seems illogical. For often forgiveness is more of a gift we give ourselves than a favour we bestow on others. There is, of course, a keenly spiritual dimension to the forgiveness principle. It is an awareness of God’s love for all. God’s willingness to forgive us is somehow linked to our willingness to forgive others. So said Jesus, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive…” That alone is all I need to know to “forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven. Let’s take a few moments to ponder our lives, personal, and in wider community.
Where do we need forgiveness? Where do we need to forgive?
Where do our lives intersect in the wider community with structures, practices, attitudes that deeply hurt our neighbours? Where must we seek forgiveness? Where must we seek to effect change? How have we been wounded with structures, practices, attitudes of the wider community that need transformation? How may we begin to forgive? Let us forgive and walk the way of peace & reconciliation with Jesus.
The connections in these readings are all very clear.
The continuous Old Testament reading (Exodus 14) seem to have the exact opposite message here, though. Pharaoh and the Egyptians have offended God and enslaved God’s people and the response seems to hold no forgiveness at all. Rather, there is judgement, death and the celebration of the death of the enemy.
On the one hand, this need not trouble us – the continuous readings are meant to be a separate focus, and don’t have to be fitted into the other readings. However, on the other hand, there is a wonderful opportunity in this contrast. If nothing else, it demonstrates how Jesus changed things, and how important it is not to lift stories like the Exodus out of their context and make them directive for us today.
Rather than adopt a Mosaic attitude of violence and judgement against enemies, and a celebration of their demise, Jesus invites us to a different response to those who hurt us – the response of forgiveness and relinquishing of judgement, and of ending the cycle of violence and retribution and choosing to actively seek peace through the tough, but healing act of forgiveness.
May our worship challenge us to move away from seeking to end violence through violence, and lead us into the path of forgiveness which alone can bring peace and healing.
In prayer, Rev Tania