Forgiven and Forgiving


Forgiveness is a complicated issue.

Remember Delmar getting baptized in O Brother Where Art Thou? He comes up out of the water declaring, “The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions. Neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now!” Unfortunately for Delmar, the baptism didn’t wipe clean his criminal record. As wise-guy Everett clarifies, “Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi is a little more hard-nosed.”

Forgiveness is a complicated issue.

For that reason, I don’t fault Peter for asking Jesus how many times he should forgive a fellow church member. Jesus’ forgiveness is different than what Peter would have been taught as a Jew. Trying to understand better, Peter suggests forgiving someone up to 7 times – which is about 6 further than most people would go.

Jesus blows that number out of the water. Depending on the translation, his answer might be 77 times or 490 times. Either way, the point is clear: we should forgive so many times that the count becomes irrelevant.

Forgiveness is a complicated issue.

Maybe knowing that his followers would need more instruction, Jesus then tells the difficult parable of the unforgiving servant. This is the one where a king forgives a servant a huge debt, and that same servant refuses to forgive a much smaller debt that he’s owed. The result: the king comes down hard on that unforgiving servant, calling him “wicked” and turning him over to the jailers. This, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

Forgiveness is a complicated issue.

There wouldn’t be much wrong about the servant’s actions if the story started out in the second act. If it were just about a servant who went after someone who owed him money – well, there’s nothing so shocking about that. What makes the servant’s actions wrong is what happens in the first act: the king’s forgiveness. The lesson is that those who have been forgiven should be forgiving.

And we have been forgiven.

I’ll speak for myself. At the end of most days I kneel beside my bed and, among other things, ask God to forgive me for the sins I committed that day. I’m 35 years old, so here’s my math for a very low estimate:

(35 years) x (365 days) x (2 each day) = 25,550 times I’ve been forgiven by God.

If I’ve been forgiven that much, how could I hold back forgiveness, especially from someone in my church family?

But forgiveness is a complicated issue.

There are lots of good questions to ask here. The first that comes to mind is, What about situations of ongoing abuse? We have to take each of those good questions as they come, bringing Jesus into the conversation and figuring out how to respond.

In the meantime, what we do know is, we have been greatly forgiven.
And that great forgiveness should change our hearts so that we want to forgive others whenever possible.

A good place to start might be simply with the knowledge that you are forgiven.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can pause and pray:
“God, please forgive me of my Sin as a human being and the sins I’ve committed today.”

Then, hear these words in quick response:
“In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

And having been forgiven – go, and forgive.

Credit to L. Gregory Jones’ book Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis for the reflections that led to this sermon.


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