Forgive and Forget? Psssht!
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
My friends, we are given a lesson on forgiveness in the Scriptures this weekend, and if we are paying attention, it is a very difficult lesson to actually live out. We understand in our heads what Jesus and Peter are talking about here. The concept of forgiveness cannot be denied as a central part of the Christian life. Why is it, then, that living out this teaching of forgiveness is so difficult for us?
We have the saying “Forgive and forget.” It’s cute. It’s tight and it fits on a bumper sticker or a keychain if you like. However, how many of us actually forget what we have forgiven? Isn’t it nice to hold past hurts in a secret storeroom of our hearts to brood over and maybe even pull out in future arguments? “To err is human; to forgive is divine; but to forget? That’s darn near impossible!”
However, Jesus calls us to better than this. He calls us to a supernatural attitude that can only be achieved by accepting and cooperating with God’s grace. And His parable illustrates how that should work. The first servant is the recipient of some amazing grace: a huge debt is completely erased – forgiven, Jesus says. How would you like to have your debts wiped out?
What was the servant’s response to this tremendous generosity and mercy? He turns to his fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount, and mistreated him, threatened him, and finally threw him into prison. A very tough picture is painted. Of note to us should be the words that Jesus uses in this parable to describe the relationship between the servants. He does not simply call the other guy “another servant” or “someone else.” Rather, Jesus uses the word “fellow servant” five times in our gospel. This should underscore the relationship of equality and shared experience between the two servants. And the first abuses that relationship in his lack of forgiveness and desire for vengeance.
What are we to learn from our Scriptures this weekend? Christ is clear about the lesson: we can expect harsh punishment from God unless each of us forgives our brother from our hearts. But even more important that that call to forgiveness is the reason for that attitude. We should be forgiving because that is what we have received from God. All of us are the recipients of amazing grace: God the Father has not only forgiven our debts of sin, but He has wiped them out completely – gratuitously – without any ability to repay Him. The only disposition, according to Jesus, to the be constantly ready and willing to forgive others – our fellow servants.
Forgive and forget? No. It’s more than that. I doubt that forgetting is even possible for most of us – I know I have a hard time with it. I rehash old hurts – even of people I say I have forgiven – and that memory reopens the wound. Forgive and forget is not what Jesus is calling Peter and us to today. Instead, He is calling us to a new attitude: Forgive … and forgive. Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. From our hearts.
That’s the challenge of the Scriptures today. Forgiveness is a central part of the Christian life. Jesus came, suffered, and died for the forgiveness of our sins. Only He could have paid that debt, and He did so freely, in obedience to the Father’s merciful will. Today, we are reminded of this tough reality of our discipleship: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself (his fellow servant), can he seek pardon for his own sins?”
Forgiveness does not mean that the hurt someone has inflicted is alright or good. Forgiveness does mean that you are good. When we forgive, we are cooperating with the amazing grace that God has shown us, and we are most Christ-like in our discipleship. Our world is full of “fellow servants.” It is also, unfortunately, full of injuries, injustices, and offenses against other’s dignity. However, this world is also full of disciples of Jesus – right?? – and we are taught by our Master that we have been forgiven ourselves.
Forgiving and forgetting might be impossible – especially for those with active minds and deep feelings. However, forgiving and forgiving is a life-long project of disciples. Let’s commit ourselves to that project, and be the best of fellow servants to one another.