Readings: Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matt 18:21-35
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” (1) Powerful words from Martin Luther King Jnr. Forgiveness and love. To have one is to possess the other quality. To be devoid of one is to be devoid of the other. And, as we hear every Sunday, to love is one of the great commandments.
Forgiveness. Not judging others, as Paul puts it. Accepting others as they are. Caught in the words we pray every Sunday, every service: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. As we forgive. As we forgive others. I’m sure you’ve heard children arguing. Like me, you may even have argued as a child. And in the heat of those arguments, you get the dredging up of past perceived insults or offences – you left me out of your game! You didn’t invite me! You said that! Siblings who remember when they felt overlooked, or that the other was praised more, favoured more. We humans can find it difficult to forget past offences against us. And we say we have forgotten, but really, deep down, resentment lingers and surfaces when emotions run high. And that’s when: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others becomes really difficult. When we have been deeply hurt by someone else, something that cuts us to the core, that’s when forgiving others becomes difficult. I don’t know if I could forgive even once if someone harmed any of my children – and fortunately, I have not been tested on this. And yet, if we believe what we say then forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us means just that. How many times should I forgive? Jesus said to Peter, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ Because we have been forgiven seventy-seven times.
Jesus is speaking of forgiveness that is unending. Unending, wholehearted, and continuous. Forgiveness that doesn’t get overturned when we are angry or upset. Forgiveness that is deep, lived, part of our being, of our being a follower of Christ. Forgiveness that is a response to the life of Christ, of the forgiveness we have been given through the giving of himself on the cross. Of the giving of himself in the bread and wine. Because through him we are forgiven, over and over and over again. That is God’s generosity. God’s generous nature is forgiveness. God will forgive every time we come in penitence and faith. In fact, we are already forgiven before we ask. God’s heart is open, and pardons us freely, generously. We just need to accept that we are forgiven and see that we stand as forgiven people before God: “We come with joy, a child of God, forgiven, loved and free” (a). Because forgiveness brings freedom. Freedom from those things that cause resentment, that separate us from God and from each other. Because, again in the words of Martin Luther King Jnr, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”(2) We need forgiveness to restore our relationship with God, and we need to forgive others because we have been forgiven, and because we need to restore our relationship with God’s people. Carrying resentment affects us, affects our lives and how we feel. Forgiving means we can move from looking back, living in the past, to looking forward. Through forgiveness we are restored, and the one forgiven and the one forgiving can move forward held in the love of God. That is why praying forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us is so important.
But, only if we do forgive fully and freely, from the heart, as Jesus puts it. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. God, through Jesus, tells us that to love others we must forgive them, because in forgiving others we are acting as God wants us to in the world, acting as God commands. Restoring relationships with God and each other. If we fail to forgive, then we fail to act as God wants, commands (3). We fail to restore those relationships. If we fail to forgive, we have not acted with the same compassion, mercy and love as God acts towards us, and if we do not follow God’s example and obey God’s commands, then, as the Gospel points out, there are consequences.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We are called to recognise our need for forgiveness, from God and from each other, and to accept that we are forgiven by God and by each other. And if we accept that we are forgiven, then we are called to forgive others. The love of God through God’s generous act of forgiveness in the life, death and resurrection of Christ is to flow through us, through our actions of generosity of spirit, of forgiveness, to others, to the world, which then reveals God’s forgiving nature, God’s love to others, to the world. We are not to act as the unforgiving servant acted. This means accepting others as they are – even if we disagree with them, or what they do. Who are we to “pass judgement”, as Paul says, on others: “for God has welcomed them”. Who are we to “pass judgement? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.”
We forgive because God forgives. God forgives generously, without end. God forgives all who come to God. God forgives us. Therefore, we cannot condemn others, fail to forgive others, those God has already forgiven, welcomed. To go back to the words of Martin Luther King Jnr, to love one another means to forgive one another. To forgive all others. It won’t always be easy – we are quicker to judge and condemn each other than to show mercy. And some things are really difficult to forgive. But, if we are to act as God calls us to, then we must love, forgive others, as God loves and forgives us. Because, those who are devoid of the power to forgive are devoid of the power to love. But those who possess the power of forgiveness possess the power of love, and therefore to act as God calls us to act. And doing this, accepting God’s forgiveness and extending that forgiveness to all, restores our relationship with God and with each other, bringing us freedom and life.
So, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, remember that we stand together to ask for forgiveness, and for the power to forgive, and thus to love, others. “We come with joy, a child of God, forgiven, loved and free. Together met, together bound, by all that God has done, we’ll go with joy, to give the world the love that makes us one.” (a)
Revd Jackie Sellin
(1) Martin Luther King Jnr https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_143179
(3) Davies and Allison () Matthew p.309
(a) Hymn 328 “Anglican Hymns Old & New (2008) Kevin Mayhew Ltd Suffolk