Two of the roughest weeks of my life culminated in returning to the pulpit on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I had much to say to anyone about anything. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. But there I was and it was time to start
putting one foot in front of the other and get back to living.
The gospel lesson for the day was Matthew 18: 21-35. It is about forgiveness. In it Peter pipes up to ask Jesus another question. How many times are we supposed to forgive someone? The clear implication is that we should
forgive them more than once. Maybe the disciples had been discussing this among themselves and finally decided to send Peter to get a definitive answer on just how many times was enough. So Peter asks how many times we should forgive. Then he throws in a follow-up
to show that he already knew the answer was going to be more than once. As many as seven times?
Have I ever forgiven someone seven times? That’s a
lot. After three or four times you begin to wonder if things will ever change with this person. They mess up and you forgive. They mess up and you forgive again. It’s the kind of vicious cycle we’d usually rather not get caught in. Of course back in the day seven was considered a perfect number, so surely seven times would be the perfect number of times you should forgive someone. After that, forget it.
But – and Lord have mercy there always seems to be a “but” with Jesus – but Jesus didn’t agree with seven times no matter how perfect that number is. Instead he replied either 77 times or 70 times 7 times (the Greek is a little unclear). At any rate, it’s a lot of times. A lot. In fact, Jesus meant we should forgive so many times that we lose count. Just keep forgiving without counting until it works.
That’s not exactly what I said on Sunday, but you get the gist of it. The rest of the sermon was about how forgiveness is NOT saying whatever happened is okay or that we should stay in abusive relationships or accept bad behavior. It’s about letting go of our own hurt, anger, fear, and hatred – whatever we are feeling that ties us to the event and won’t let us move on.
Since it was 9/11 I felt like I had to go there and say right out loud that Jesus expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgive everyone. Forgive anything. Even forgive terrorists.
After the service one of my members asked me, “Do you find it easy to forgive?” It felt more like an accusation than a question. I wondered if she thought I was trying to say that forgiveness is or should be easy.
I looked at her with a face that I’m sure reflected my sadness and said, “No. I find it really hard.” She was clearly surprised to hear this.
Oh how I wish I could simply decide to forgive someone and *POOF* it’s done, just like that. I’m pretty open about the fact that my sermons are directed at me. I
don’t preach what I think my congregation is doing wrong and needs to be corrected on. I preach what I need to
Easy? No, it’s not easy. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes when I think I have finally been able to let go and truly forgive I turn around and there it is right back to
rear its ugly face again – all the anger and hurt. and yes, all the desire for revenge.
Easy? Did I imply that a Christian should find it
easy to forgive? I’ve never read that anywhere in the Bible. If it was easy I don’t think the need to do it would have been repeated quite so often.
In the sermon I said that Jesus wants us to keep forgiving without counting how many times it takes. I realize now that sounded like I meant keep forgiving no matter how many times or ways that person hurts you – to keep forgiving until that person eventually catches on
and stops hurting you – but what I believe Jesus really meant was to keep forgiving no matter how many times it takes for the forgiveness to work on us.
How many times do I have to forgive this person until it works on me and I can finally, truly let go and be done with it? As many as seven times? Knowing myself as I do, it will probably be a lot more than seven times, and it will probably be more than 77 times. 490 times might be
It’s hard to forgive, but that isn’t an excuse not to do it.
And don’t even get me started on the unforgivable.
That’s a blog for another day.