Summary: An exploration of Judgement and Forgiveness and how we should forgive others even when we may not want to, and why it is right for us to do so.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Around 25 years ago I was studying for my banking qualifications, and one of the subjects I had to study was Banking Law, it was a fascinating subject, but it was also filled with great amounts of technical legalistic jargon which had to be learned off by heart. I had a large pile of index cards which I be continually reading, often finding myself walking around Hollingworth Lake, talking to myself!
Whilst much of the information has now leaked out of my brain, there is the odd part which remains, such as what the Bankers Book evidence act of 1879, or the Bank of England act of 1946 enshrined in law, but why tell you about this, well its because there was something else which stuck with me and that was how to describe the tort of defamation, if you don’t recognise it, you many know it by another name, slander, and perhaps you may have experienced it from one side or the other.
We use a significant amount of words each and every day, mainly for conversations with our spouse, family, friends and colleagues, and for the most part these words are cordial and allow for the exchange of information. But there are times when words are used in divisive or unhelpful ways, and often these can cut to the core of a person, or worse when they are used to condemn someone to a third party, specially where there has been some sort of disagreement.
These words may make the person who has been upset feel better for a moment as they vent their anger or frustration, but, very soon, this action becomes an empty act and that is where the danger sets in where the process is repeated time and time again. Without realising it the person has sullied someone else to a number of people, and all without the subject of the conversation being aware that this has happened, well until the point when the conversation comes back, and the damage has been done, namely their character has been defamed, or slandered.
Essentially, what started as a disagreement with another person is blown out of all proportion, and we are guilty of doing exactly what Paul is talking about in our epistle this morning. We have cast a judgement on another, because their view is opposed to our own.
It’s a dangerous road to travel, and causes hurt and pain for everyone involved. However, to really see the consequences we need to turn our attention towards todays Gospel.
Peter was asking about forgiveness, and Christ begins by saying seventy-seven times, and then tells a parable. At the beginning it looks like a story about charity and the generosity of the king who forgave the slave such a great debt. But as it continues it very quickly becomes sour as the slave who has just been freed from a massive debt persecutes a fellow slave who in comparison owed him pittance.
The story quickly unfolds and the king learns about the deplorable way that the slave has acted, and as a result he finds himself in custody with the debt firmly around his neck and now due for full payment.
Forgiveness for all of us is a difficult concept, usually when we are wronged, what we want to do is retaliate, he or she did this to me, I’m going to repay them by doing this. The fire of anger enrages us, and if we are being honest it is highly unlikely that the first thing on our mind is repentance.
But of course, in doing this we have cast judgement onto them, and while we could take our cue from Leviticus Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. and feel vindicated in the actions that we have taken, what would that prove, how would it help us to learn the lessons that scripture is teaching us today, and grow in our faith?
Instead we should continue to listen to St Paul, earlier in his letter to the Romans he said. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
In our lent course in 2018, we spent time thinking about the act of forgiveness, and whilst initially many thought about this being just between the two people involved, we need to remember that in forgiveness there are three parties, The one who has been hurt, the one who caused the pain and God.