The Gospel on Sunday was the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. If you’re unfamiliar with the parable you can follow the link and read it. It’s pretty self-explanitory; if you’re not forgiving people then you shouldn’t expect to be forgiven by God in your own life. There’s no clever way to skirt around it. In order for us to receive forgiveness (and grace, and charity, and so on) in our lives is to in turn take those freely-given gifts and practice them towards others. As Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew when we do these things for others we are doing them to Christ.
The jail is such a poignant example of unforgiveness, because if we’re unable to forgive someone we’re just locking ourselves in a jail cell. We our binding our own hands but not forgiving. It may sound funny but forgiveness gives us ultimate freedom! Once you’ve forgiven someone you don’t have to feel your guts in knots when the person is around, do won’t find yourself intermittently stomping around the house at the great offense you suffered. But the longer you hold onto that unforgiveness the more damaging it is to you. Every time you see that person you’re pulled right back into that cell again, and again, and again. It’s tormenting! You’ll find no rest, and if we read the parable, you’ll find no forgiveness in your lives. Of course it’s hard to forgive someone, but there are practical things we can keep in mind that will help us in our unforgiveness.
Disabuse yourself of the idea that you deserve something
America is really hung up on the idea of getting what we deserve. I deserve respect, I deserve the promotion, I deserve the raise, I don’t deserve to be spoken to in such a way, and so on. While it’s certainly preferable to have these things, if we can get into our head that we don’t deserve it, these offenses can sting, but they’re easier to pray through. Do you think you deserve something? Has someone offended you and you can’t seem to get over it? Look at Christ: God as man, God in the flesh, who didn’t consider himself level with God, but taking on the form of a servant dwelt among us. He performed miracles and healed illness, and was ultimately beaten, spat upon, crucified, and murdered. And yet even still he forgave them. When you see this, you can, as one might say, let it run off you like water off a duck’s back. You can never control someone’s behavior, but you can control your own, and that is to strive to forgive that person.
Always assume best intentions
Pres. Jennifer and I had/raised all of our children while I was in seminary. There were nights I’d get no sleep, nights she certainly got no sleep. There were times when we’d get no sleep over the course of several nights. I, understandably, was catty and derelict in my studies sometimes. I wasn’t practicing the fruits of the spirit in my daily walk, I was short with my friends, co-workers and my boss. One time I made a large mistake at work and I was just all-around being a lump. Thank God my boss was so understanding; he told me to go home and nap, because I obviously wasn’t doing so well lacking sleep like I was. People were temperate with me, they were a little softer with me in my time of weakness, until things got a little better and we could sleep again. My wife and I tried to practice this with one another. Arguments about nothing were really about nothing, spurred on due to lack of sleep. When one of us grumped, we had to try out hardest to admit it right away.
This is the same way we need to be with everyone. Nobody knows what’s going on in the head and heart of another person. They could be experiencing one or many kinds of trouble in their lives. If we’re practicing the fruits of the spirit that I’ve been preaching about we, by definition, will be understanding and temperate towards one another. In self-control we don’t react to an offense, instead wondering what might else be going on, replying not in-kind but in-kindness. And it’s this kind of love and gentleness that can calm the flames of a heated argument, or quell the storm happening in our own heart.
A long way from the gallows
It’s hard to forgive. It really is. We have deeply ingrained responses to perceived threats or injustice that can be hard to overcome. But with the Grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit we can really begin to unshackle ourselves from the jail cell of unforgiveness, achieving peace in our relationships, letting the bright rays of forgiveness to warm our faces.
So you can forgive someone, but what about people who don’t want to be forgiven? What do we do after we’ve forgiven someone? Next week we’ll talk about reconciliation.