Forgiveness is a constantly recurring theme in Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
But forgiveness is a mystery…
A few faces of forgiveness:
[Matthew 6: 9-15] – the Lord’s prayer – “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
Q: Why does Jesus speak in terms of “debt”. What is debt?
A: I have to repay something to make things right. A debt is an obligation. If I am in debt I owe somebody something.
Q: What do I owe someone whom I have wronged?
A: At least an apology. Maybe restitution.
Q: So what does it mean if I forgive a debtor?
[Mark 11: 25] – forgive others, so that God may forgive you.
We have read several places where Jesus uses the formula of:
Do not judge so that you may not be judged.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
With the judgment you make you will be judged.
But it may not be because it is some rule that God made: that you are not deserving of his forgiveness if you do not forgive others.
Maybe God cannot forgive us if our hearts are not in the right place.
[Luke 23: 33-34] – “forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus goes beyond forgiveness. Jesus asks God to forgive those who are hurting him.
Q: When have you asked someone to forgive a person who has hurt them?
A: Probably somewhat common: e.g., “I know he hurt you, but he just lost his job. So go easy on him.”
Or refereeing quarrels among children: “Let it go. She’s too little to realize what she’s doing…”
Q: But have you been wronged, and someone close to you is outraged – and you ask them to forgive the person who has wronged you?
That may not be so common…
Q: What are we feeling when we ask someone to forgive another?
Q: What are we really asking them to do?
A: To have mercy on them. To see with the eyes of God.
We are inviting them to enter the Kingdom of God with us…
Forgiveness is a great mystery.
And yet, instinctively, intuitively, we sense it as a deeply good and admirable thing.
We admire those who can forgive.
Q: Why? Why is forgiveness so central to Jesus message?
Is it simply because God demands it?
It has to be more than that. Maybe it’s simply because it’s God’s nature to forgive. And so it is meant to be our nature too.
Q: What are some of the consequences of forgiving others?
There are 2 consequences of forgiving others that are of great importance:
1) It sets us free
Q: What does forgiving others who have hurt us set us free from?
Desire for revenge
Those who would drag us down
[I Cor 6: 1-7] – “…to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”
Q: Why not? How do you feel about this?
Q: What does forgiving others who have hurt us set us free for?
A: To trust others
To risk ourselves again in the service of love – even after being burned…
Remember back to the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
Q: Who did you identify with in that story?
Q: Put yourself in the place of the woman for a second. What does that feel like?
Q: Put yourself in the place of Jesus. What does that feel like?
Q: Put yourself in the place of the Pharisees who are walking away. What does that feel like?
Q: Who is the fourth character in this story?
Someone who doesn’t speak, but is present.
Q: What does God want? How does God want this scene to turn out?
Q: Does anyone lose, the way the story turns out?
Everyone walks away a winner.
We talked last time about the idea that the Pharisees were not testing Jesus to trap him, despite John’s interpretation — to all appearances they did not really want to kill her, but felt compelled to do so because it was their duty under the Law. Jesus showed them the way out, and they took it. The Pharisees were winners.
The only one who might have lost was God, because the Law was broken twice: by the woman and her lover, and by the Pharisees who chose not to execute her/them (actually both the man and the woman were liable to be put to death for the crime of adultery).
But God never wanted the woman stoned and killed. So God didn’t lose… To think that he did was to misunderstand God’s nature.
Forgiveness made it possible for love and mercy to prevail.
And that’s what God cares about most.
Without forgiveness, love and mercy would have been defeated.
2) Through forgiveness, we set the debtor free.
[To be continued next time…]