Forgiveness is not easy. It may be one of the hardest things that Jesus asks of us.
“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”As the old saying goes, to err is human, to forgive divine. And yet Jesus calls us to do just that, forgive. Again, & again and again.
On my wrist, I wear a bracelet. The bracelet has the signature of Nelson Mandela. One reason, I wear it, is because it reminds me that at the moment of truth, after decades in prison, Madiba chose forgiveness.
As you remember, Nelson Mandela was a human rights lawyer and freedom fighter, but for many of the white South Africans, he was a terrorist. In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for his participation in several bombings around South Africa.
As Mandela wrote in his autobiography, "A Long Walk to Freedom," he was suffering at the hands of his captors, and he became determined to study his enemy. He wanted to understand them. He wanted to know them. He befriended many of his prison guards. And by the end, Mandela forgave the Afrikaners.
He forgave them. That same forgiveness Jesus asks of us. Forgiveness removed the shackles of hate that he wore & he knew that such forgiveness was going to be the key to any reconciliation in SA.
"Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That's why it's such a powerful weapon." ~ MadibaForgiveness ultimately is not about someone else. It is about us. Our hearts and our lives, if we forgive others we will be truly free. Madiba came to understand that truth that forgiveness will help us be free, to let go of whatever injury we sustained, and find healing.
As Desmond Tutu put it, “The invitation to forgive is not an invitation to forget. Nor is it an invitation to claim that an injury is less hurtful than it really is. Nor is it a request to paper over the fissure in a relationship, to say it’s okay when it’s not. It’s not okay to be injured. It’s not okay to be abused. It’s not okay to be violated. It’s not okay to be betrayed. The invitation to forgive is an invitation to find healing and peace.”Forgiveness is at the heart of our faith if we are to be called disciples of Jesus Christ. We see this in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant that we heard today. Again, Jesus shakes up our understandings to see the Kingdom of God in new ways.
The parable begins with a king settling his accounts. When a slave who is brought to him owing a huge sum, one he could not pay, he is ordered to be sold with his family to repay the debt. That is his prerogative. It’s his slave, and he wants his money. Sell them. But the slave promises to pay the king everything he owes, which of course as a slave he could never obtain that amount of wealth. Ever.
But the king has mercy; he has a change of heart. He releases the slave and forgives the debt. That’s it. No repayment necessary. Not even a little bit of what he owed. The slave is freed!
"But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt."The slave who was freed, fails to show mercy like the king did to him. Unlike the king, he was not transformed, . The king hears about it and relents of his mercy and has him tortured until the debts are paid off because he did not have mercy and forgive his fellow slave. And how does Jesus end this parable?
“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” That is blunt. Forgive your brother or sister, from your heart!
As one of my seminary professors has put it, “the main message of Jesus was about forgiveness and how it transforms lives.” (Bill Countryman)
The king in the parable was transformed because he forgave the slave. The slave did not understand or could not do it, so his life was not transformed and he suffered for it. Jesus who died on the cross for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, gives us that gift of grace, the forgiveness of our sins. Not because we earned it, or begged in the right way, but because God wanted to do that.
As Wm. Paul Young, The Shack, puts it “Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person's throat......Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.........Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.........Forgiveness does not excuse anything.........You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness......”It reminds me that every day, twice a day (morning and night), monks following the rule of St. Benedict say the Lord’s Prayer, because as the rule says, “this is done because of the harm that is often done in a community by the thorns of conflict which can arise.” They hear the words, “forgive us as we also forgive,” and are called to forgive one another, to be cleansed from the stain of such evil, so they can live with one another in love.
In his parable on forgiveness, Jesus calls everyone to be his disciples in this work, to be ready and willing to make the first move toward forgiveness and to offer it from our hearts. So will we be the king who forgives & has mercy or the unforgiving slave who is not transformed?
Today let us remember the precious gifts we have been given and share these gifts with our troubled and hurting world today, which may be as close as our own home. Amen.