Summary: How can we get to the point that we are able to forgive each other’s sins, all of those sins, from the bottom of our hearts?
Right here at the beginning of this sermon, let us quietly and honestly ask whether we know anyone from our own circle of friends and family whom we have not forgiven for some wrong that person might have done us; a person from whom we once separated ourselves in anger—perhaps not even in open anger, but in quiet bitterness, thinking: I cannot stand it any longer, I can no longer associate with this person.
Or are we really so inattentive that we say we do not know anyone like this? Are we so indifferent to other people that we do not even know whether we are living in peace or at odds with them? Whether one after another may not someday stand up and accuse us, saying: “You separated yourself from me in discord—you could not tolerate me—you broke off fellowship with me—you found me unsympathetic and turned away from me—I once did you wrong, and you left me alone—I once wounded your honor, and you broke with me—and I could not find you again—I often looked for you, but you avoided me—and we never spoke frankly with each other again, but I wanted nothing more from you than your forgiveness, and yet you were never able to forgive me. Here I am now, and I am accusing you—do you still even know me?”—Whether or not in that particular hour names will come back to us that we hardly recognize anymore— many, many wounded, rejected, poor souls whose sin we did not forgive. And among these people perhaps even a good friend, a brother or sister, one of our parents?
And at that moment a single, great, threatening, terrible voice will speak against us: You have been a hard person—all your cordiality cannot help you; you were hard and proud and as cold as a stone; you did not concern yourself with any of us; you were indifferent to all of us and hated us, you never knew what forgiveness might accomplish; you never knew how it benefits the person who experiences it and how it liberates the person who forgives. You have always been a hard person.
We make it too easy for ourselves with other people. We completely blunt our sensibility, and then believe that not thinking ill of someone is the same as forgiving that person—yet in so doing we utterly fail to see that, as a matter of fact, we have no positive thoughts about the person— and to forgive would mean having nothing but good thoughts about the person and supporting that person whenever we can. But precisely that is what we avoid—we do not support such persons. Instead, we continue alongside them and grow accustomed to their silence; indeed, we do not take it seriously to begin with—and yet the whole point is to support such persons—to support them in all situations, with all their difficult and unpleasant sides, including any injustice and sin they may commit even against me—to be silent, to support, and to love without ceasing—that would come close to forgiveness!
Those who do indeed take this posture toward others, toward their parents, their friends, their wives, their husbands, but also toward strangers, in fact, toward all those whom we encounter in our lives—they know how difficult this really is. They know how often they want to say: I just cannot do it any longer; I just cannot stand this person any longer; I’m just worn out from it. One cannot always just keep on as before. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” How long must I endure this person who acts so harshly toward me, hurting me, wounding me, who is so completely inconsiderate and insensitive and who has hurt me immeasurably—Lord, how often . . . ? At one point or another, it simply must end; wrong simply must be called for what it is; my own rights simply cannot continue to be violated on and on—“As many as seven times?” We probably will smile at Peter here, since seven times does not seem like all that much to us—how often have we already forgiven and overlooked? And yet we certainly should not smile, indeed, we have absolutely no reason to do so with regard to Peter here. To forgive seven times, genuinely to forgive, would mean making the best of the wrong that has been done to us, would mean repaying evil with good; it means accepting the other person as if that person had always been our dearest friend—no small feat. Indeed, it is what we tend to call forgiving and forgetting: Live and let live. But then genuinely forgiving, out of pure love, love that simply refuses to turn the other person loose and instead insists on continuing to support that person—that is certainly no small feat.