Sunday, September 11, 2011

How Often Should I Forgive?

13th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)

A parable of forgiveness

Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."


Whenever I try to envision Peter speaking to Jesus about forgiveness, I begin to giggle.

I can just imagine Peter feeling very good about himself as he asked our Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Wow! Seven times…that sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? A person hurts you one time, and you screw up your faith and turn the other cheek. That same person hurts you another time, and you gird up your prayer life, and turn the other cheek. That same person comes at you again, and you wearily turn the other check. But, what about a fourth time, then a fifth time, then a sixth time, then finally the seventh time.

My Lord…seven times sounds like an awful lot of abuse from the same person—over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

But, in response, Jesus says, “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times!”

Oh my goodness, Lord!

Seventy seven times…Seven is the number of perfection. And then seven duplicated…seventy-seven times. In other words, we are to love and then forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ as many times as it takes, to make—and keep—things right.

Jesus then went on to share a parable with Peter. In Sunday School we are taught that parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Well, the heavenly meaning to this particular parable is “Forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Or as stated elsewhere in scripture, “The one who has been forgiven much, ought to love much as well (Luke 7:47).”

As you undoubtedly know, tomorrow/today is the tenth anniversary of the events of 9-11. Many of us we are suffering as we remember that gruesome day and the loss of life that accompanied it and has accompanied it over ten years of war.

As we hold the memory of those who perished in our deepest prayers on today, I also want to remind us of something that blessed my life as I was living on the east coast approximately three hours away from ground zero on 9-11.

What I remember about that day is the horrible fear, anxiety, and rage that Americans felt, but I also remember our determination to rise above the ashes of our grief and despair and to love one another well in the aftermath of great crisis.

Like me, you’ve heard the stories of those who rushed into the Twin Towers, rather than away from them, in order to save strangers from the blazes. You’ve heard the stories of the courageous travelers who forfeited their lives in a Pennsylvania field, rather than allowing more of their countrymen to be harmed. You’ve heard the stories of the interfaith prayer services that sprung up on the eve of 9-11, where Christian, Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters gathered together to petition our God for grace and mercy in all the days ahead.

These stories sustain us as we remember September 11, 2001 which is now a day that lives in infamy.

These stories—and others like them--give us hope for the future. These stories cause us to wrap our arms around each other and to remember that it is the unconditional love and amazing grace of our God that forgives all of our sin and gifts us with eternal life.

These stories remind us that Love never fails. And that it is our Jesus who serves as our role model for how to endure great suffering and still extend a redeeming love that has the power to transform everything.

So today, at Atonement Lutheran Church, we are beginning a new program year. At the start of a new year we often take stock, set new goals, reconcile with loved ones, and start all over again.

On days like this, we take the time to say to one another, “I love you. I am sorry for hurting you. I ask you to forgive me. Let us start all over again,” for today’s gospel lesson teaches us that “we must choose to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.” For Love is always our decision.

Let us forgive our husbands and our wives. Let us forgive our sons and our daughters. Let us forgive our mothers and our fathers. Let us forgive our brothers and our sisters. Let us forgive our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. And most of all--let us forgive one another.

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.”

Seventy-seven times I love you. Seventy-seven times I forgive you. Seventy-seven times I ask you to forgive me.

God of abundant mercy, we confess that we are more ready to be forgiven than to forgive others…Have mercy, O God; turn us again to you and toward others; and grant that we may live for you and die in you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our redeemer and Lord, Amen.

On this day it is my prayer that God who is generous and faithful, forgiving sins without number, welcoming all to the feast, would give us a place amongst the saints. It is my prayer that we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are forgiven and made whole through the humble obedience of Jesus Christ who went to the cross for our sake. And it is my prayer that the spirit of God who is at work in us, would enable us to live for one another, sharing the good news message that Jesus saves and he saves to the utmost!

I pray this in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @

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