Here we are, our first Sunday of Lent. A time of reflection, preparation, a time of walking with Jesus Christ to the cross.
It’s also a time for turning from the sin in our lives and seeking forgiveness.
So to read from Matthew 18:15-35 is a good place to start.
Jesus offers us some simple steps when dealing with someone who sins in the community. First, you go and talk it over. If that doesn’t work, then you take a few other people with you, one or two, to talk it over again. If that doesn’t work, then you discuss it in front of the entire church! If that still doesn’t solve the problem, then that person is no longer part of your life. Don’t let that person have a hold on your life any longer. They cannot hold you prison to their sin, nor can you let it affect your life in heaven.
Peter then asks a good question. “How many times should we forgive?” And he offers “7” as a pretty lofty goal. So he thinks.
But Jesus responds and says that it should be more like 77 times (or in some translations 70×7 times). And how are we supposed to keep track of all that? Can you imagine coming home in the evening and figuring it out.
“Hmm… Billy sinned against me again today, that’s his 8th time. Oh and so did Sue, that’s her 312th time. Can’t forget Jim cutting me off in traffic, that’s the 83rd time for him.”
You can see how it’s impossible to keep track of it all. So in effect, Jesus is saying always forgive.
And then Jesus shares a parable.
A king seeks to settle accounts with his debtors. One servant comes before him owing 10,000 talents. We need to know that 1 talent is about 15 years of wages for a servant. So this guy can pay it all off in only 150,000 years! He must have had a student loan.
“Have patience! I’ll pay it all back!” he pleads. And the king takes pity on him and releases him from his debt. All is forgiven.
The servant leaves the palace and meets another servant who owes him 100 denarii (a couple thousand dollars). He has just been forgiven a huge debt, yet he demands payment from the other man, and has him thrown in jail until it is all paid off.
Word gets back to the king, and he is not pleased. He calls the servant back, scolds him and demands repayment of the 10,000 talents, and has him thrown in jail until it can be all paid off.
What we have to learn is that forgiveness is important. If we hold in anger, resentment or malice towards others, it impacts our relationships in the community, and also with our Father in heaven.
Jesus closes the parable by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Forgiveness is more than following a 3 step process. Forgiveness is about restoration: restoration of community, restoration of relationships, restoration of our relationship with God. Forgiveness has the power to change. It opens a future which may have been closed off. Forgiveness helps victims more forward in healing.
On April 28, 1999 a young man walked into W.B. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta. He shot and killed another students, and injured one other.
17 year old Jason Lang was killed. He was the son of Rev. Dale Lang, the local Anglican priest. In the news just days later, Rev. Lang stood in front of the media and told the world his family forgave the young man who shot his son. And now Rev. Lang works with anti-bullying groups and speaks in schools across the country. A healing process which began with forgiveness in the midst of unbearable pain.
Forgiveness is a huge undertaking. One we cannot undertake alone. It is God who enables us to truly forgive to such a depth. If is God who changes the human heart, opening us up to the healing power of forgiveness.
Even Jesus, hanging on the cross, found it within himself to call for the forgiveness of those who hung him there.
Corrie Ten Boom and her family protected Jews during World War 2. They were caught and put into a concentration camp. She watched as family members died in those camps. Some years later she met with one of those guards who had overseen their deaths. The man had repented and was a born again Christian. He held out his hand to her and asked for her forgiveness for what he had done to her family.
She could not do it. She prayed that God would give her the strength, because she could not forgive him. She felt the least she could do was hold the man’s hand.
As she did, she felt forgiveness flow through her body, down her arm and into the man. God gave her the strength to forgive.
God gave Rev. Dale Lang and his family the strength to forgive.
Forgiveness changes lives. God gives us the strength to forgive and begin the healing process. Both within ourselves and within our communties.
He also forgives us our own sins.
In this season of Lent, as we walk with Jesus Christ to the cross, let us be a forgiving people. Let us be a loving people. And let us receive the forgiveness God offers to us as we turn from the sin in our own lives.