“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” (See Matthew 18:21-22, RSV).
Do you remember the game we played as children – “Rock, Scissors, Paper?” You might recall, “rock beats scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock”. All three might be dangerous weapons! Have you ever been smashed in the face with a rock? Cut or punctured by scissors? Received a paper cut?
The game can help us learn some lessons about life’s scars. Life throws its share of rocks, scissors, and paper at us. Someone smashes us in the face – or heart. Someone stabs us in the back – or front. Someone cuts us – a little or a lot.
What will we do with our injuries? This was Peter’s question to Jesus. How often should we forgive? Peter thought seven times was about right. Jesus prescribed 70 times that number! We who are reluctant to forgive one or two times are expected to forgive “490 times?” Forgive until it becomes a habit?
Jesus knew that one of the greatest needs in life is forgiveness. One of your greatest needs is to be forgiven – unless you’re perfect. One of your greatest needs in life is to forgive others who are imperfect. We who need food, clothing, shelter, love, support, encouragement need to learn to forgive and be forgiven. When you read these words who comes to mind? What protest do you offer? Just because you have been wronged doesn’t mean that what you are clutching is not a grudge. Just because you have been wronged doesn’t make you right! Jesus said to forgive 70 times-seven. But there has to be a first time. Maybe a second time. Perhaps a third time. Forgiveness is supposed to be a habit – a lifestyle – a characteristic that causes us to resemble Christ.
Jesus knew, of course, that there is an alternative to such forgiveness. Grudges. Bitterness. Anger. Strife. Emotional cancer. Spiritual rot. Hurts that continue to fester and ooze. We can wallow in our hurts. We can lick our wounds. We can play the victim. We can harbor the hurt that we think justifies our lashing out at others. The Bible says, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christi’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). God doesn’t force us to forgive, because forgiveness is a gift we must give ourselves and others. Isn’t it far better to recognize that in Christ we are all forgiven?
In our liturgy of Holy Communion the minister says to the congregation, “In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.” Then the congregation responds to the minister, “In the name of Jesus Christi you are forgiven.” Only then do we proceed to the Communion table.
So whom do you need to forgive?
A family member who has wronged you?
A friend who has betrayed you?
A colleague who has abused you?
A neighbor who has taken advantage of you?
A church member who offended you?
Do you need to forgive yourself?
Do you need to forgive God because he did not “perform” in the way you asked or expected?
I have been in many hospital rooms where there is a “pain index” which asks, “On a scale of one to 10, how bad does it hurt?” There’s also a “forgiveness index”. How often will you forgive? One time? Ten times? Four-hundred-ninety times?
Do you want to be healthy and whole?
If you do, learn to forgive. Let go. Turn it loose. Get on with life!
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.