Scripture for Sunday, 17 September 2017:
Exodus 14.19-30; Psalm 114; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35
Anyone who has experienced some sort of injury, such as a fractured bone, will know that the damage can be experienced on more than one level. A bone can heal in a matter of weeks; other damage can take much longer to heal.
The injuries that we experience emotionally and spiritually are similar. Jesus used the generic term, sin, to describe the ways in which we can damage one another and harm the relationships between us.
Peter asked a question that many who have experienced hurt have echoed: how long must we go on forgiving people who offend or hurt us? The answer that Jesus gave essentially implies: more times than you can probably count. This ought to come with a word of caution: it is not a recipe to justify prolonged submission to abuse, when read in the context of the rest of Christ’s teaching (which illustrates the danger of using passages of scripture out of context).
The principle that Jesus was trying to reinforce was that forging an effective community of faith amongst human beings who are prone to error that may hurt one another, means to be willing to forgive, and to do so in the context of receiving forgiveness from God. Community is harmed when we cannot forgive and be reconciled to one another. Equally, when we carry the burden of wounds received, whether actual or perceived, we not only weigh down ourselves, but we infect the community. When a transgressor makes a sincere and penitent effort to be reconciled, as members of the Christian community, we are to be merciful, taking into consideration God’s mercy to us.
It must be said, also, that “forgive and forget” is not a biblical expression. To forgive is Christian, but our whole faith is built upon scripture that is concerned with remembering what has gone before us and learning from it.
Putting the words of Jesus into context, the Apostle Paul reminds the Romans (and us) to be wary of our own self-righteousness, and not to fall into the trap of passing judgement. Jesus invites us into his world of lightened burdens, leaving judgement to God, and setting down the weight of every petty resentment that builds with lack of forgiving.
Do we appreciate how liberally God forgives us? To participate in Christ’s forgiving world we must be willing to forgive in turn and to be forgiven – as many times as it takes. That is how we may help to heal not only the obvious fractures, but the underlying wounds that harm our community of faith.