Summary: PENTECOST 17, YEAR A - Discusses the need to forgive that we might be forgiven
Do you remember the old saying, “To Err is Human, to Forgive Divine.” A wonderful statement that leads our thoughts to heaven, to unity between neighbors, to love, to forgiveness. But then there’s the other ditty that reminds us of a different reality, a more earthly one that you and I experience far more often.
"To dwell above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory.
But to dwell below with saints we know, Well, that’s another story"
A woman in her eighties once told her minister how fifty years before, her aunt had said something insulting to her, and this woman had never forgiven her. Fifty years later she could recount the event to the precise detail, and she felt all the same bitterness, anger, and resentment welling up in her as if it were yesterday.
THE CALL TO FORGIVE
In our passage today we are confronted with the earthly call from Christ to forgive one another. We all know that Forgiveness is the only way to break through the barrier of anger that separates us from each other. Forgiveness, of course, is the virtue we value he most, and exercise the least, in our Christian experience. We all love to be forgiven -- we expect it, and want it. But we find it a struggle to forgive; we resist it, and often refuse to do it. We are like a little boy who was saying his prayers. As he went down the list of his family, asking God to bless them, he omitted his brother’s name. His mother said to him, "Why didn’t you pray for Cliff?" He said, "I’m not going to ask God to bless Cliff because he hit me." And his mother said, "Don’t you remember Jesus said to forgive your enemies?" But the little boy said, "That’s just the trouble. He’s not my enemy; he’s my brother!"
THE PROBLEM WITH PETER
Perhaps many of us have the same difficulty, as did the Apostle Peter. He too was faced with this same problem, the problem of forgiving his brother. In Matthew 18, in a great passage in which our Lord has been dealing with the question of relationships between those who belong to him, we find Peter, in his impulsive bluntness, coming to Christ with a question. Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." I have often wondered, as I read this account, if Peter was not actually thinking of his literal brother, Andrew. They had grown up together. They had together joined the community of followers who could never hide anything for very long. Peter may even have had in view some offense of Andrew’s when he asked this question. Perhaps Andrew habitually left the cap off the toothpaste tube; or he was always borrowing some of Peter’s clothes, and wearing it without permission; or perhaps he never cleaned up his messes, or committed some other unmistakable brotherly wrong.
RAISING THE ANTE
When we hear of conflict between friends and family over such petty little things, many of us are prone to say, “Now isn’t hat stupid?” We hear Jesus’s command to forgive seven times seven and we say, “See, isn’t it time to forgive and forget” But before any of us turn this passage into something it’s not, lets raise the ante up to the level of forgiveness that Jesus is talking about Chet Hodgin considered himself a good Christian. He thought he had a pretty good understanding of what Christian forgiveness was all about. But he found it hard to put it into practice. You see, Chet has two very powerful reasons why he has difficulty forgiving: his son Keith, who was murdered in 1991 by a man he had fired, and his son Kevin, a pizza deliveryman who was shot and killed in 1992 during a robbery. So far as he knows, the killers have never adked for forgiveness. From what he knows of them, he doesn’t think that this is likely, either. So he doesn’t feel obliged to forgive them now. When asked if he could ever forgive them if they asked for his forgiveness, he replied, "I would not necessarily say yes. At this point of time I have no intention of forgiving the animals who viciously murdered my sons. And anyone who disagrees has never walked in my shoes." Could you forgive such acts of violence? Could you forgive the individuals who took the lives of those you loved the most? And not just once, but seven times seven? Not so easy now, is it? The poet Heinrich Heine expressed how difficult this type of forgiveness is when he wrote,