Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I Should Have Said...

Not long ago, in my junior high group the subject of forgiveness came up. I can’t remember how, or even what the focus of forgiveness was. But eventually in our conversation the question got posed to me hypothetically about whether I could ever forgive someone if they killed my little boy, Caleb.

I told them that I hoped that I could eventually get to the point where I could forgive them. My boys were astonished. They couldn’t get their heads around the fact, and I couldn’t – in the moment – think of a good way to help them see the whats and whys of why I believe that I could forgive this horrible, hypothetical situation.

This morning, as I was reading I came to Matthew 18:23-35, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Jesus has just instructed Peter to forgive, not just seven times – as is above and beyond in Jewish customs – but however many times it takes. So Jesus decides the illustrate his point, as he often does, with a parable.

In the parable, a servant owes the king an amount more than he will be able to pay back. He begs for patience from the king, and instead the king wipes the dept away. The servant immediately leaves the presence of the king to find another servant who owes him money. He grabs him by the throat, and threatens to throw him in jail if he doesn’t pay back what he owes the first servant – an amount somewhere around a million to one what he owed the king.

The king heres the news and does treats the servant who owed him more than he could repay how he had just treated the second servant who could over time repay the debt. In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed…This is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18 34-35).

Here is what I should have said to my boys that night: ”I can forgive because he first forgave me my offenses. If I lose sight of where God has saved me from I will never be able to forgive people of the petty things they do to me. But if I know that I had a debt that could not be repaid except for by the blood of Jesus, then, and only then can I have the strength to forgive others.”

D.A. Carson wrote, “Jesus sees no incongruity in the actions of a heavenly Father who forgives so bountifully and punishes so ruthlessly, and neither should we. Indeed, it is precisely because he is a God of such compassion and mercy that he cannot possibly accept as his those devoid of compassion and mercy.”

“If we don’t forgive our fellow servants their puny little offenses against us. God won’t forgive our huge offenses against him. God’s actions are both severe and fair. Those in the church who bear grudges against brothers or spouses or parents must pay attention to this teaching. Forgiveness of others is essential to our own salvation.” – Mark Moore