15 Pentecost, September 17
“In anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from the heart” (Matt. 18:34-35). This difficult end to a parable on forgiveness holds in tension both a final judgment against the unforgiving and the claim that forgiveness should not be motivated by external threat. Rather, the command of God should be so internalized that forgiveness toward a brother or sister flows from the heart. By divine command, forgiveness is necessary. Inwardly, it is the will of God working, by grace, in the free will of men and women bound together in Christ.
The king in the parable who forgives the servant does so “out of pity.” The forgiven servant, however, grabs his debtor by the throat, refuses patience, and shows no mercy. Forgiveness, it seems, is something very close to compassion and empathy, an acknowledgment that the debtor is another self who, like every human, is burdened with debts that can never be fully and adequately repaid. What will a man give in return for his life? Forgiveness is a way of assuring that brothers and sisters in Christ remain in communion, and thus there is no limit to the number of times forgiveness may be offered. Acting “out of pity” simply is the normal and habitual condition of a healthy Christian body. For that reason, one who, having been forgiven, then refuses to extend forgiveness, is in violation of an essential part of life in Christ.
Forgiveness, to be sure, is difficult, complicated, and layered with subtleties when there is something and someone to forgive and the offense is deeply serious. God demands forgiveness, but God gives the grace by which forgiveness occurs, and God gives time for anger and sorrow to be fully felt by the person harmed. It is cruel, therefore, to stand in for God and demand that someone forgive when we lack the supernatural grace to make that happen. It is better, in the face of such suffering, to stand in solidarity and to feel pity that for now perhaps a person cannot forgive.
“Father forgive/release them, for they know not what they do.” Strangely, in the normal trials in which forgiveness is needed, the person released is not primarily the offending party, but the person offended. The grip of a past sorrow, hurt, offense, or even attack may with time and grace loosen and then free a person to go on with life, and with new hope. But, let’s be clear. Forgiving and forgetting do not belong together, if the latter means pretending that “it” never happened. Part of being released, however, may be a new freedom from an obsessive replay of previous hurt.
Look into the past. So much good flows into the present. So much sorrow and hurt spoil the life we might have. Let God do it. Let the God of storms breathe over the waters of the Reed Sea. “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the flood stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea” (Ex. 15:8). “The enemy [your hurt] said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, … I will draw my sword” (Ex. 15:9). There is a power over which this enemy is powerless. “Terror and dread fell upon them; by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone” (Ex. 15:16). Emerging from baptismal water, we are forgiven and forgiving and free.
Look It Up
Read Matthew 18:27.
Think About It
Feel deeply and honestly, and let freedom be.