Reflection: Forgiveness, September 13th, by Alan Finch

Readings: Genesis 50: 15 – 21; Romans 14: 1 – 12; Matthew 18: 21 – 35

Today’s story told by Jesus takes place in two distinct places: first, inside the throne room of a powerful king; second, just outside in a palace corridor. It describes two views of the world, one the world as we know it and secondly the world as God wants it.

We begin in the throne room in our world which changes in an instant to a world that God wants it to be. On the other hand in the palace corridor, things start out as the world we know but fail to become the world as God wants it.

The king in the parable acts with magnanimity and compassion and when the slave begs to be forgiven the debt he owes, the king releases him and forgives the whole of his large debt. So far so good, however the failure comes when the man who is forgiven does not have the same grace and compassion toward those who are indebted to him. In this parable we see the true meaning of our words in the Lord’s Prayer where we humbly ask: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Christian Faith is full of paradoxes because we first have to act and then God acts for us; we have to forgive others before we can be forgiven our own sins by God.  So instead of God starting the process of forgiveness we are instructed to start the process by making the first move; that is to forgive those who have sinned against us.   

I do not know about you but in my experience forgiveness is as much, if not more beneficial to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven.  Jesus told it as a story that fitted the context of his time.   As the human understanding of psychology has increased we now can see that the act of forgiving, letting go of feelings of revenge and retribution, can bring great healing.

Forgiveness is the most basic Christian quality. Without forgiveness, we wouldn’t have Christianity as we know it. Without forgiveness, we would all be doomed to hell, condemned sinners without hope of any kind.  Knowing this, a proper understanding of forgiveness will transform our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves.  The meaning of the word “forgiveness” is: to dismiss, to release, to leave or abandon. We hear of judges dismissing the charges against a defendant. That person is then forgiven of any wrong doing or that a person that is released from an obligation, such as a loan or debt. That person is then forgiven. 

The word forgiveness also has the meaning to restore someone back to their original condition. The person who has been forgiven of a sin then restored to the condition of not having sinned: the sin has been dismissed and he has been released from any penalty. The case against him has been abandoned or dismissed.

Forgiving people can be one of the toughest things that Christ commands us to do, but it is something that we are commanded to do. 

In the passage today I hope we can find some practical steps that will help make it easier for us to be a forgiving person.  It is easy to carry a grudge against a person, but if we belong to Christ, then we will learn to be a forgiving person.

There are some very clear words about this from Jesus that we all know:  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” or in the more familiar translation, “Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The door to joy and happiness is forgiveness.   First, when we forgive we join with God in doing one of God’s essential works.   Doing the will and work of God brings fulfilment to our lives.   Second, forgiveness brings peace to our relationships.   Any parent can tell stories of dealing with the injuries, offences, and disobedience of children.   Without forgiveness, children can’t be raised. Marriage, as our institution and way of being, can’t be sustained without mutual forgiveness. Married folk can’t keep from injuring each other and without forgiveness the injuries would become wounds and the wounds become fatal.

The cross is God’s ultimate act of love and forgiveness.  What God did through Jesus was pure love.  God said to all humanity, “There is nothing that you can do that will end my love for you.”  It does, though upset God when we don’t share the love and forgiveness we have received.  

Forgiveness is only possible if we remember God is within and our strength, and even when we cannot find the words He promised that the Spirit would help find the words, even when our act of forgiveness is rejected.   God knows our heart and so we can be forgiven.

Next time when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together, take the words “as we forgive those who sin against us,” into our hearts. Only then, can we begin to understand what forgiveness is all about.

So, forgive someone — today!

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