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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 18:21–35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (NRSV)


To ask how many times one should forgive another reveals that one is counting—counting the infractions and counting one’s response. Jesus blows apart that framework with “seventy times seven,” meaning there’s no limit for how often we are called to forgive. Forgiveness is what holds a faith community together in both challenging and smooth times and requires us to grow in mutual love. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we subject ourselves to ill treatment again and again. Forgiveness means that we release ourselves from harboring resentment against another, and we release the other from our desire that they “pay for their sins.”

We may more easily forgive if we remember how much we have already been forgiven. This requires honest acknowledgement of our own shortcomings and our dependence upon God to accept us and make us new. Priest Henri Nouwen wrote, “As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!”


Merciful God, “help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe we are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live. . . . Let your acceptance change us, so that we may . . . practice your acceptance until we know by heart the table of forgiveness and laughter’s healing art.” Amen.
(From the hymn “Help Us Accept Each Other” by Fred Kahn)

Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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