Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 19 Sept 13 2020
Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
Today we have the second installment of Matthew's gospel on forgiveness. Last week I said to you that forgiveness is about the heart, and not forgiving will kill you from the inside out. Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness covers us with it's grace. Forgiveness can even rewrite the narrative of our lives. And, just as importantly, we are forgiven. In all of our impetuous imperfection, in all of our risky races, in all of our messy murkiness, we continue to be the delight of God's life, we continue to be loved perfectly, and forgiven abundantly. God continues to come to us in love, God comes to us in the unreasonable incarnation, God comes to us in Jesus, in the bread, in the wine, in each other, and God says to us, there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do that will separate me from you. God says, I forgive you now, and I will forgive you forever.
How many times should I forgive my sibling in Christ who sins against me? As many as seven times? Jesus says, as many as seventy-seven times. Really? Seventy-seven times? Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Or truth? Forgiveness is to be given without limit—an abundance of forgiveness. The gospel writer Matthew uses the "perfect" number 7 in this story, which represents fullness and spiritual perfection. So how many times is enough?
Not enough or just enough or even good enough is not the measure here. Forgiveness is the attitude, the posture, that a follower of Jesus takes in all relationship. There are books written on forgiveness. There's "forgiveness Friday" on Facebook. Why does forgiveness remain so hard for us? We look at forgiveness as a transaction, if I forgive you, you will change, you will show remorse, you will stop doing that dastardly thing that you do. Or, we cannot forgive, because the thing that was done was heinous, and the doer a monster. But the forgiveness that is shown to us in this passage is none of that. It is the kind of forgiveness that is not a transaction, it is not a single act, but a matter of constant practice. Which proves that forgiving and forgetting is a lie, you never forget, but you can forgive.
Sometimes, often in fact, forgiveness does not happen once and for all. That is one reason why forgiveness is so hard. Sometimes, the hurt and the pain are so big, and so deep, and maybe even so horrible, that forgiveness needs to happen daily, maybe even more often, it indeed becomes a constant practice. We see and hear when violence has been inflicted on someone, that the loved ones look for revenge, for retribution even. We ask how can there be forgiveness when the wrong is so horrible? We ask is there a time when forgiveness cannot or should not happen? But without forgiveness the heart hardens, the soul withers, and death occurs from the inside out. Forgiveness is a constant practice, and sometimes forgiveness takes a lifetime.
Forgiveness wraps us in grace, and in love. Forgiveness does not take away hurt or anger, but forgiveness keeps the heart supple, so that it does not wither and die. We can forgive, because we have been forgiven. To be human is to miss the mark, to be human is to hurt and be hurt, to be human is to be broken, to fragment. We are created as these wonderful, beautiful, brutal, passionate beings. Our very beings long for joy, for meaning, for excitement, for wonder, for speed, and for peace and quiet. But life breaks us. We seek after so much that is good for us, and that which is harmful to us. In our seeking, we often hurt ourselves and others.
But Jesus heals us. The pieces of our lives are put back together again, our lives will look and feel different, but we will be whole. That is forgiveness, forgiveness that brings healing, forgiveness that breaks our hearts. You see, when our hearts break, and then our hearts are healed, that leaves scars. And it is those scars that help us to forgive. It is those scars that give us the grace to see the beauty and the brutality in ourselves, in those we love, and those we cannot love, yet. It is those scars that create the space in our hearts and our lives and give us the capacity to forgive.
That is what's in Matthew today. Forgiveness happened, forgiveness of a debt, a debt that kept this man a slave, a debt that held his life in peril. That debt was forgiven. That man was graced by forgiveness. And yet he did not let that forgiveness permeate his being, he did not let that forgiveness transform him, he did not pay that love and healing forward.
We have been forgiven, so we may also forgive. And this is the depth of what Matthew shows us in these passages. Forgiveness is to be our posture in the world. So sometimes we find it incredibly difficult to forgive, and sometimes we find it incredibly difficult to accept forgiveness. When you have done wrong, when you have hurt, when you have dealt harshly with the ones you love, and you are offered the grace of forgiveness, how do you accept that? Do you think to yourself, I am not worthy. Do you think to yourself, I don't deserve such grace. The effect is the same as not forgiving. When you can't or don't or won't accept forgiveness your heart hardens, there is no space for love. Accepting forgiveness, accepting you are forgiven, accepting grace, opens your heart and your life to the possibility of transformation, the reality of resurrection. Accepting forgiveness profoundly changes the way we are in relationship with one another.
"I'm sorry" - "no problem." "I forgive you" - "oh nothing to forgive" are just words without meaning. "I'll never forgive you for what you did to me" or "I can never be forgiven for what I did to you" are words carried on weapons of destruction. As a culture we seem to either use the platitudes or be at the other extreme where there is no forgiveness possible. But what if instead, we practice forgiveness constantly, what if we carry ourselves with a posture of forgiveness. Forgiveness that conveys grace, forgiveness that heals. God's forgiveness, puts us back together again, binds us and makes us whole and mends our wounds but leaves us scarred. God's forgiveness gives us compassion. God's forgiveness offers us hope.
I forgive you - you are forgiven is the reality in which God's relationship with us abides, and our relationship with others must live. Forgive them, they do not know what they do, are the words we hear from the cross. Forgive them, forgive us, forgive me, Jesus, fill us with your grace so that love overflows. Amen.