14th September 2008 (Trinity 17)
The message of the parable of the unmerciful servant is plain enough: God forgives us so much, so we too need to forgive the much smaller sins people commit against us. The sum owed by the first servant was the greatest imaginable – and that is what God forgives us. The second servant owed the first 1/600,000 as much – that is the comparative size of the sins we need to forgive. We find that difficult to accept. How can our sins against God be that much greater than others' sins against us? If I’ve tried to do my best, and someone commits a really serious sin against me, how can that sin be so much smaller than my sin against God?
Our problem is that we are not in a position to judge, as Paul makes clear in Romans 14. Sins that affect me or my loved ones matter far more to me than similar sins affecting unknown people far away, and I am far more ready to justify my own sinful actions than those of others! In the end it is something we had best just accept: our sins against God vastly outweigh any person's sins against us. Yet God offers us complete forgiveness, to open the door for a close, loving relationship with us. That relationship depends on us accepting his forgiveness, and walking through that door. It also depends on us forgiving in our turn; we cannot have a close relationship with God if we keep bitterness in our hearts.
How do we forgive? Forgiveness is not about forgetting the incident or situation. Nor is it about feelings – we can’t alter our feelings just like that. It is about a decision: we decide to let the sinner off the hook, to write off the debt, as it were, and not to hold it against them. We decide to let go of our right to get even. If someone owes us money, and we forgive them, that’s not a feeling; it’s a decision. It is costly – we lose the money. Always there’s a cost to forgiveness, and there is an injustice that is done. When God forgives us, because Christ took our sins on himself, that was not justice, it was mercy and grace. It was costly. We are to do to others what we want God to do for us.
1) “I cannot forgive!” How might a person saying that be helped?
2) How important is God’s forgiveness to you? How do respond?