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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Today’s Scripture 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)

I give people the benefit of the doubt, almost to a fault. I’m not quick to hold a grudge, and I can’t stand being upset with someone. But when I’m deeply hurt, the process of forgiveness can be quite heavy. Logically I know the person wants to make things right and own up to hurt and pain that was caused. Emotionally, I want to reconcile that pain, but the pain I’m feeling, and I know the other is feeling, lingers.

Feminist writer bell hooks wrote, “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”

In today’s Gospel, we learn the importance of forgiveness and the importance of offering it constantly. As Christ tells Peter, there should be no end to the number of times we forgive. That is not our initial reaction when pain enters our heart, however. It is much easier to hold that fault over a person and withhold love and trust.

But as we learn from Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant, we must remain meek and humble when asked for forgiveness. The servant receives forgiveness from his master but quickly forgets that mercy when given the chance to do the same.

The human reaction is to dismiss a request for forgiveness. A wrong has been done, and trust cannot be returned. However, it is a Christ-like reaction to remain humble, to remember all our wrongdoings have already been forgiven through Christ’s sacrificial love. We must follow Christ’s example of mercy and share that grace freely as it is shared with us.

God of love and mercy, guide me in recognizing the chance to renew love, mend hearts, and forgive with unending grace. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens Harris, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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