In the Gospel, Peter asks Jesus if he needs to forgive someone as many as seven times (Matthew 18:21-35). Why seven times? Because seven had the symbolic meaning of being the perfect number and represented eternity. So for Peter, to forgive someone seven times was more than generous. He must have been shocked when Jesus said one is to forgive not seven times but seventy times seven times. In other words, there is no end to the number of times we are to forgive. For a disciple of Jesus, forgiveness has no limits.
This might seem to be asking way too much. We know how difficult it is to forgive. Forgiveness is not the natural response to being hurt or offended. The natural inclination is to get back at the other person, to hurt the offender as we have been hurt. Sometimes we want to hurt the offender even more deeply than we were hurt. Knowing how contrary to our human inclinations forgiveness is, the instruction of Jesus for limitless forgiveness is a reflection of its divine quality. To pay back, to get revenge is human. To forgive is divine. That is why forgiveness is so powerful. All we have to do is think about a time when we were forgiven and never thought we would be, to know how very freeing and healing forgiveness can be.
Even so, sometimes we hold our hurts, anger or resentment in a tight embrace. Doing so chips away at our well-being, weakens us, and can even destroy us. Jesus of limitless forgiveness invites us to take an honest look and see where we might be tightly hugging our anger, resentment or bitterness toward someone. Sometimes those someones are as close as those in our own homes or as far away as an offense that happened long ago that we are still hanging onto as if it were yesterday. The story in the Gospel says that the servant who was forgiven but did not in turn forgive, was handed over to be tortured. That is a graphic image of the real torment of living with an unforgiving heart or the unfinished business of not knowing if we have been forgiven by someone else.
Our experiences of being forgiven can be the motivation for giving that same gift to somebody else. If we are waiting for somebody else to make the first move, maybe now is the time to stop waiting and be the first one to change the embrace of hurt into an embrace of forgiveness. With so much out of our control these days, this is something that is within our power to do. That embrace of forgiveness could be just the healing touch we need at this time. And just think, there are no limits to how many times that embrace can be given. To forgive is divine.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, Rector