Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Matthew 18:21-35
We spoke last Sunday about how God’s law which cuts us to the heart, and makes us realize that he is talking to us, is never an easy thing to hear.
Who hasn’t read this sort of parable and thought: “surely that doesn’t apply to me. I have never done anything like that, have I?” And we have that very old familiar sinking feeling when we realize that it does apply to us.
Our human nature looks for a way out, for some sort of loophole, for something to change the subject, to get the pressure off of ourselves, when we know very well that God’s word has hit the target in our hearts.
A perfect case in point was Peter, in our Gospel lesson.
He thought that Jesus was getting a bit hard to hear, and thought that he would try to win some points. The Jewish law codes said if someone sins against you once, forgive. If he sins against you twice, forgive again. If he sins against you a third time, forgive, but not a fourth. Forgive three times.
Peter thought that he would show how forgiving he was by doubling this and adding one. Seven times would win him some points, surely. But Jesus was not impressed. He takes the seven and multiplies it by another eleven times. He blows out Peter’s generosity to a seemingly excessive figure, to show how it is to be in the kingdom of heaven.
Not seven times but seventy seven times. Still not a finite number, but something to show Peter had it wrong. The message: Stop keeping score.
Stop counting the money someone cheated you out of, stop counting the amount of times they have done it. Stop counting all the harsh or unfair words ever said to you.
Why? Because there is only one that has the right to keep score.
That is what Jesus is trying to get across to us through the parable. None of us have the right to refuse to forgive anyone, because compared to what God has forgiven us, what has been done to us is nothing.
Hate is a powerful force in our world, refusal to forgive is a powerful force, but forgiveness is a much more powerful force.
This is the terrible power of refusing to forgive:
There's a scene from a movie a few years ago called "Nobody's Fool." There's a working man named Donald Sullivan, played by Paul Newman. Everybody calls him Sully. He's about sixty years old, and spent his whole life in the same town. When his parents died, he inherited their house. He never moved in. Instead he left it alone. It was the house where his father beat him as a child. So he has left it alone, and every day he drives by to watch it slowly fall apart. One day he takes one of his friends, a builder, through that broken-down house.
The builder says, "Sully, you could have saved this place. You could have fixed it up a little bit, rented it out. You could have sold it and put the money in your own pocket. Instead you stick it to your old man. What's it been - - thirty, thirty-five years? You still keeping score? Well, here's the good news: you won."
Meanwhile the house is falling down . . . Is it really that important for us to keep score?
Compare to that the wonderful power of forgiveness:
Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald Reagan said that her dad made a lasting impression on her the day after a man shot him, trying to assassinate him in 1982. She says,
"The following day my father said he knew his physical healing was directly dependent on his ability to forgive John Hinckley. By showing me that forgiveness is the key to everything, including physical health and healing, he gave me an example of Christ-like thinking."
Your human nature will still be telling you that this doesn’t apply to you. You’ve never been shot. But the lesson here can still apply to your life.
Here’s another one:
Four decades ago (1981) there was an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived. After he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison to see the man who had attempted to assassinate him on Christmas day.
Millions watched on television as the Pope visited with Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two years before had tried to assassinate him. The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. When he emerged John Paul explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned." The headline the next week in Time Magazine read, "Why forgive?"
That is a good question, one that has been asked for centuries. It was asked by Peter in verse 21 of the passage that was read this morning. If you have not asked the question yet in your own life; wait, you will someday.
You might not get shot at like a president or a Pope, you might not get beaten, but there will be something in your life at some stage about which you will need to ask that question: Why forgive?
And I hope that the answer comes to you, so that the house of your life isn’t left to fall down untended, while you keep score and are eaten away by the pain of it.
The freedom that comes from forgiveness is unfathomable. I know of family members who have cheated others out of inheritances, and the injured party still sends their nieces and nephews presents every birthday. Those relationships that probably would normally be lost after that sort of situation, are still alive, with all of the blessings that go with them, through the power of forgiveness.
Whoever came up with the old phrase “forgive and forget” had no idea what they were talking about. That isn’t the way it works. Forgiveness is not a once off, and it is not human to forget what has been done. Instead, you will remember it time and time again for years, and to truly forgive, you have to forgive the person all over again every time you remember it. It takes a lot of work.
Forgive and remember, then forgive again. Forgive until it becomes a habit. Forgive, because you are forgiven. Forgive, because you belong to Christ.
And when I say those words: Peace be with you. You know what? It truly will.