Did you know that forgiveness is mostly for you?
At first when we think of forgiveness, we think about the other person who hurt us and try to determine whether or not they have shown themselves worthy of our forgiveness.
Once they do that, then we can forgive. We often times do not consider that forgiveness is actually more for us than it is for the person we are forgiving. If you think about it, whose heart is being controlled more, the one who offended, or the one who was hurt?
Often times the people who have been hurt cannot let go of what happened, and begin to carry the wound around with them. They may not think about it all the time, but it constricts their heart and does not allow them to love fully. There can be a loss of freedom, heightened fears and anxieties, as well as anger. It’s just not worth it. There is a reason why Jesus emphasizes forgiveness in the Gospels.
This weekend the theme of reconciliation is extremely poignant beginning with the first reading from the book of Sirach. The Lord reminds us “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sirach 27:30-28:4). The Lord continues to make this point very forcefully in the Gospel. Peter comes to him asking “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) To us seven times sounds extremely generous. How many of us would forgive the same offense more than once? Jesus’ response is quite shocking. He says, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). The use of this number basically means there should be no end to your forgiveness and you should always forgive. To explain this, He tells a parable saying “That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan” (Matthew 18:24-27). Let’s stop here for just a second. In other translations, and in the original Greek, the amount that this servant owed the master was 10,000 talents. One talent would be worth about $457,600. So almost half a million dollars. Multiply that by 10,000 and you get $4.5 billion. This is an astronomical amount that this servant has not even the slightest chance of repaying with the wages he makes. What Jesus is likening this to is the forgiveness of God, and the forgiveness that He offers us.
The amount that we all owe due to sin is unsurpassable, insurmountable by any of us. We cannot in any way pay the price to clear it up. The story continues: “When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt” (Matthew 18:28-30). Here again the Greek specifies the amount. It says that the fellow servant owed him “100 silver coins,” or “100 Denarii,” which is about 100 days wages at minimum wage.
So in Michigan that would be $9.45 an hour today. Multiply that by 8 hours and then by 100 to get $7,560. This is no small amount for a day laborer. It is equivalent to about 1/3 of a years salary. But in comparison to what this servant was forgiven by the master, it is absolutely nothing. It would have taken him about 20 years to pay back 1 talent. Multiply that by 10,000 and he would have taken 200,000 years to pay back the debt. It is no wonder that the man’s fellow servants ran to tell the master what they had just seen. The story continues: “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).
The reality of unforgiveness leads us to a hard heart unable to receive forgiveness. It is not that God the Father wants to send us to prison until we pay back the debt. In all honesty we send ourselves there because of our hardness of heart which makes us unable to receive His forgiveness. Who, having received forgiveness of a $4.5 billion loan, would go out that same day and choke someone else for $7,560? It sounds absurd. But that is what we often do. In comparison to what we have been forgiven — an infinite amount — how is it that we cling to insignificant grievances from our neighbors, our brothers and sisters? Just let it go! It is not worth handing your soul over to anger, fear, anxiety, pain, hurt, hardness, sadness, and separation from God’s forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean that the other person goes off scott free, but rather means that I forgo justice for myself and leave God to be the judge.
I let go of my control of the situation, or the lie that I can even take real control by clinging to unforgiveness. What really happens happens is that it begins to control me. It’s better for me, it’s better for everyone if I just let go.