Peter came and said to Jesus, "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.”
In other translations Jesus responded 7 times 70 or even 770 times. In any translation, does that mean the next time my heart is broken I need not forgive? I don’t think so.
How do you forgive a child who keeps hurting you with harsh words and tantrums? Slamming doors? The refrain of “I hate you!”
How do you forgive a spouse who keeps turning from you in the night? Who no longer sees your tears? Who misses dinner more often than not?
How do you forgive a brother or sister who forgets your birthday yet again? Who calls but doesn’t ask how you are doing? Who never stops by just for a cup of coffee?
How do you forgive a church that has taught you the need to earn your way into heaven? Who was not there in the middle of your pain? Who forgot you by the time the flowers on your mother’s grave died?
How do you forgive when the house you worked so hard to build is picked up and dropped down in pieces by the wind?
How do you forgive the faceless evil that sent planes into towers, buildings, and fields killing thousands and leaving too many widows and orphans?
Unforgiveness becomes like small stone in your shoe. You know it is there, it can be irritating, yet in time, it becomes familiar. The time that it would take to stop, to bend over or sit down, untie your shoe, take it off, and dump the stone out too much work to hassle with. It is easier to keep on walking, to worry the stone with your toes, to complain about it to a friend or stranger. It somehow begins to belong there. Its presence comfortable after time.
We hear a parable today about a king preparing to settle his accounts. The one who owed the most falls on his knees, begs the king, and is forgiven his debt. We are not talking just a few dollars here, but ten thousand talents. Each talent close to 130 lbs which was used to measure gold and silver. Equal to about 15 years of wages for a worker in those days. So this man owes the king about 150,000 years worth of income or 3,000 financial life sentences.
Even so this man’s immense debt is forgiven and he goes on his way. As this now free man is walking down the road, he sees the friend who owes him a hundred denarii. Now while this is no small debt, he has just been forgiven 150,000 years of income. His friend owes him 100 silver coins equal to the daily wage of a worker. So while significant, it cannot compare to the debt he has just been forgiven. Yet, he shows no mercy. He has his friend thrown into prison where he will never earn the money to pay his debt.
Others tell the king and this leads to his debt being remembered and the king torturing him until the debt is forgiven. In others words, probably forever.
Jesus says, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
So again, this has nothing to do with the number of times. Forgiveness from God is both extravagant and precious. In this parable we are shown forgiveness in the extreme and shown it as being far more precious that the wages of sin.
Yet we are broken and we often don’t mind stones in our shoes. They are so much friendlier than that uncomfortable place of taking them out and giving them to God. It is so much easier to blame others or unforeseen forces or even God for the stones in our shoes.
In giving them to God we struggle with our emotions. We would rather build an altar out of our stones and worship them. We would rather keep them than hand them over.
That one there? That is when my brother hurt my feelings.
That one? It is the time my wife forgot to pick up my dry cleaning.
God teaches us over time that those stones in our shoes are more like cement blocks. Holding us down. Making life heavy. We learn that forgiveness is not a onetime thing but an ongoing process. Not an emotion, but rather an act of will. An act of the will that involves us granting and accepting forgiveness. Being bold enough to dump the stones out and try new ways of being with others.
Forgiveness is not about allowing us to become doormats or the object of another’s abuse or wrong actions. It is instead seeing ourselves as beautiful children of God, worthy of receiving unconditional love and becoming free enough to shower others in that same unconditional love. Of taking those stones that should cause us to sink and allowing God to turn them into diamonds that reflect the rainbow of God’s love for us even in our imperfect, broken state.