|Dedicated to Ann,Bob,Mike & Liz
Seen on a T shirt in Kingsbridege is a very crude synopsis of to-days sermon " to err is human , to forgive is out of the question" Put more prosaically.. We are most like animals when we kill; we are most like humans when we judge; and most like God when we forgive.
I have to confess that true and absolute forgiveness is not something that comes easily to me. There was a stage in my life when I could forgive & apologising even when it was I who had been wronged. I did this because I could not bear the separation that arose through conflict. I'd rather ignore my hurt for the sake of peace and I guess there were times when this was probably the right thing to do. There was a couple, you might know them, seemed to be having a lot of arguments. But they really wanted their marriage to work . (Key)
So they agreed that for one month they would drop notes into "fault boxes" each to contain the others daily irritations, not listening, not caring, always flicking channels etc. you know what I mean.
At the end of the month they sat in together on the sofa; they exchanged boxes. The wife reflected on all her wrongs. Then he opened his box, admittedly with a bit of a smirk, because she clearly had more notes than he. He began reading .. they were all the same .. they read, "I love you"
Forgiveness is so complex. Should one forgive out of love or compassion? Sounds good but is it true forgiveness?
What about forgiveness even if it is not wanted or (my cynical shadow me) if it is not deserved.
Should forgiveness be so cheaply given by a child whose parent harms or abuses them? Should a consistently violent spouse be forgiven & the violence continue?. I do not believe that Jesus advocated destructive co-dependency but I believe is encouraging us towards a pro-active desire to forgive. In other words a desire to forgive and withhold, providing there is some form of acknowledgement of wrong, and where the harmed party can confront and say how hurt they are.
For me, my forgiveness is very precious. Very special indeed.
It's not cheap, it costs me to forgive.
If I've been hurt or damaged in someway and am given the opportunity to forgive I can do so, willingly, as I give a precious gift.
I have to set aside my damage hurt which enables me to accept an apology and give forgiveness.
The gospel reading reveals this rather well.
Peter asks Jesus "how many times shall I forgive my brother Andrew?
.. Reminds me of the woman who had 14 children aged between 1 & 14 sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of desertion.
When did your husband leave you? asked the judge. Thirteen years ago she replied. If he left you 13 years ago where did all these children come from? Asked the judge. Oh said the woman, he kept coming back to say he was sorry"
But back to Peter; Rabbinical teaching has a formula which says it sufficient to forgive 3 times & no more. So you can imagine that Peter with some pride telling Jesus that he would be prepared to forgive 7 times, double the number and add one.
Peter must have expected some praise for his very generous and forgiving nature. But Jesus seems disappointed; it was as if Peter had said how many times should I love my children? Forgivness, true forgiveness, is about our maturity and it comes from the emotions not from law.
Forgiveness is an indicator of our ability to love. love always perseveres and keeps no record of wrongs.. Forgiveness goes on, always continually it is 70x7 x infinity.
To explain just how central forgiveness is to us all and perhaps especially to the Christian. Jesus told this parable. A man owed 10,000 talents. To give you some idea of the size of the debt, Solomon's Temple (similar size of Chester Cathedral) but it was covered in gold and silver and precious stones cost 9ooo talents, this man owed 10,000. I guess were talking £3billion. Now there was no way this man could pay the debt,
Well what was he to do, declare himself bankrupt, which meant he and his whole family would have been slammed into a most awful prison, tortured frequently & be dependent upon friends supplying them with food and clothing etc.
His only real chance of survival would be to have his debt forgiven by the one to whom he owed.
He needed a new start!
So he went a begging, claiming he would, somehow repay the debt, all he wanted was the chance. It was a pathetic suggestion, he knew it, the banker King knew it.
Those listening to Jesus would have guessed what was to happen next. The debtor would loose his job, he would be imprisoned along with his family, or perhaps be sold into some slavery with a terrible master. Perhaps the crowd would be gleefully hoping that this once rich, cheating, privileged capitalist entrepreneur would get his comeuppence.
Then the first extraordinary twist. For some wonderful, obscure reason the banker King had compassion on him.
Did he re schedule the loan? Give extra time to pay? Suggest 10p in the pound. Suspend interest payments. Convert the debt into a loan & repay back over the next 100 years? .. NO.. none of that.
He actually forgave him, wiped out the debt of £3billion. Wiped it out as if it had never been.. Gave him a new start.. The guy was forgiven.
Imagine you have a new land agent and a letter arrives from him saying that you have been granted the fee simple, the freehold of your farm!! Guess you might be pleased!!
Forgiveness, the granting to you of something you do not deserve from the someone who just wants you to be free. I say free .. because unforgiveness binds and suffocates us. Often it is far more healthy for us to forgive & be forgiven rather than to keep on replaying the hurt someone has done to you. Or to live in the pain that someone hates you and will not allow you to be free from your error by being forgiven.Karl Menninger the psychiatrist said that if he could convince his patients in the psychiatric hospital to forgive and be forgiven 75% of them could walk out the next day!
Well the debtor, the businessman in the parable, the very one who had just been forgiven a horrendous debt, meets his neibour who owes him 100 denarii's £50. He too pleads and asks for time to pay off the debt. and of course his debt was small enough to be realistically re-paid.
The crowd were probably now more interested in the storytellers parable.. looking for another twist and there it was .. instead of forgiving as I dare say each of the listeners would have done?
This man gave no mercy, no chance, no negotiation and had his neibour and family thrown into the debtors prison for this poultry debt.
Another twist on the way.the King hears of this appalling injustice, calls the unforgiving businessman to his office rescinds the pardon and has him thrown into prison.
Imagine for yourselves what it would be like if having your mortgage paid of, or your tenant farm given to you ..Then on the Monday morning a letter arrives, not confirming the gift, but that the Estate manager, had been watching you and had seen you ignore the financial difficulties of one of your labourers, herdsman or neighbour. Because of that had decided against confirming the proposal?
The booking of that once in a life time holiday and another and better Range Rover and the large cheque to the Educational Authority allowing your grandchildren to private school education now leaves you in the most awful debt.. Oh what regret, if only you had another chance, if only you had been more discreet with your meanness!!.. but it would be too late.
The listening crowd were probably pleased with the result, but there is yet one more twist a third twist verse Matt 18v35.
Does this mean what it says? Is Jesus serious?. you cannot be serious?
What happens when we say the confession?
Are we forgiven? should we take communion?
Clearly Jesus makes the point, one that cannot be avoided.
If we refuse to forgive, if we are unwilling to forgive- we shall NOT be forgiven.
"Perhaps you should never ask God for something we are not willing to give to others"
Thomas Watson said "We may as well go to hell for not forgiving as for not believing"
Now I must be careful here, I am not saying that it simple or easy to forgive, nor is it cheap to forgive, nor am I saying that we can always forgive.
I am saying that we must always be a willing to forgive.
Just as Gods is always willing to forgive us, but it always requires two to restore a broken relationship. The moment we turn to God He is always there ready, pleased to forgive us.
A small example of the complexity.
If I were to come to you and say. I forgive you - I wonder how you would feel? Might you accuse me of arrogance, would you deny there was anything to forgive. Perhaps you do not want my forgiveness.. you may not even know there is a problem!!
In terms of our personal relationships, forgiveness first requires acknowledgement of guilt then the apology.
We can trivialise sin if our forgives is cheap.
The clear Christian teaching is that we should always be ready to repent and willing to forgive.
As we say the Lords prayer later on in this service let us remember to hear what we say
" forgive us as we forgive others".