The Sunday Evening crowd at our church is a small and unique group. Because of this, Sunday evening takes on an atmosphere of a Bible study rather than a formal worship service. Our pastor has recently begun a series titled What’s so Amazing About Grace? This past week’s mail-out contained a segment that I wanted to pass along to you. It was written by Lewis Smedes:
“When we forgive someone, we do not forget the hurtful act, as if forgetting came along with the forgiveness package, the way strings come with a violin… Forgiving, in fact, may be a dangerous way to escape the inner surgery of the heart that we call forgiving…
Once we have forgiven, however, we get a new freedom to forget. This time (after forgiveness happens) forgetting is a sign of health; it is not a trick to avoid spiritual surgery. We can forget because we have been healed. Be even if it is easier to forget after we forgive, we should not make forgetting a test of our forgiving. The test of forgiving lies with healing the lingering pain of the past, not with forgetting that the past ever happened.
…Can you stop your memory on a dime, put it in reverse, and spin it in another direction the way you can reverse direction on a tape recorder? We cannot forget on command. So we just have to let the forgetting happen as it will; we shouldn’t rush it, and we certainly should not doubt the genuineness of our forgiving if we happen to remember. The really important thins is that we have the power to forgive what we still do remember.”
Over the past few weeks, during this study, I have had some thoughts about this forgiveness. I wonder why some people seem to be able to forgive the most atrocious acts with seemingly no difficulty at all while other people face years of anger and turmoil because of wrongs done them in the distant past. Several posts ago, March 18th to be exact, I mentioned that I don’t know how to reach the point of offering our enemies forgiveness.
Now, however, I think I am figuring it out. In Matthew chapter 18 one may find the "Parable of the Unmerciful Servant." Most every church go-er will immediately recognize this passage as being the “seventy times seven passage.” It is through this parable Jesus suggests that we forgive our brother seventy times seven times for a grand total of 490 times. (Yes, I used a calculator and no, I am not ashamed.) The same church go-er has heard many a sermon on how that seventy times seven does not actually mean 490 times but as many times as it takes even into the thousands. Having heard about 490 of such sermons myself, I have always thought that meant to continue to forgive that many different offenses. Essentially, our brother (or sister) could commit 490 heinous acts against us, but we are charged to forgive each and every last one. But, what if, we look at this passage a little differently? What if we tried to forgive just one offense that many times? What if God recognized that we are human and we will struggle to forgive and will darn near fail at forgetting major offenses? What if God meant to tell us through this parable that every time we remember that offense, or every time we become angry again, or every time we fail at forgiving and forgetting we should sit down, say a prayer and forgive the offense all over again. Perhaps, the intention was to provide a plan of offering that forgiveness even if it takes us 490 tries.
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 21 – 35)
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[f]
23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents[g] was brought to him.
25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'
27The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.[h] He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
The painting is Lute Player by the Italian Baroque painter Orazio Gentileschi. He was a follower of Caravaggio and a teacher. His best pupil (and my personal favorite painter) was his daughter Artemisia. She is historically considered the first female painter.