Scripture for the week:
Exodus 14:19–31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1–12; Matthew 18:21–35
The death of the Rev. Ian Paisley this week has been rather a gift to preachers, coming as it does between a gospel message last week about reconciliation and today’s gospel about forgiving. A man with a vitriolic tongue, who directed fiery invective at Irish Republicans, became an architect of power-sharing and peace through dialogue with those same Republicans, and was mourned by Martin McGuinness as a friend – because he took to heart the biblical directive to forgive.
Similarly, we must be willing to change behaviour that causes others to need to forgive us.
Forgiving and reconciliation are related, and necessary steps towards peace – the peace to which Jesus calls us all, in lives lived in mutual respect.
Human lives and human nature offer ample opportunities to forgive and to be forgiven. We have to be ready both to receive and to dispense forgiveness. Forgiving helps us to reduce the burden of resentment that we otherwise carry with us.
Jesus told Peter to forgive, seventy times seven, or seventy seven times (the original Greek is ambiguous). It is a ridiculously large number. When Jesus gave this number to Peter, in response to his question about forgiving, he was in essence saying, “Don’t bother counting. Just do it.”