Thursday, 26 September 2013

Matthew 18:21-35 - Forgiven but unforgiving

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Matthew 18:21-35 relates another of Jesus' parables, prompted by a question from Peter.

Peter wanted to know how long patience should be applied in a situation where there has been repeated offence and repeated forgiveness. How long would you put up with this treatment? How long would I? Three times? That would seem more than generous in a case where someone is taking the mickey. We are called to be forgiving, but surely we're not called to be stupid? This is not, "Once bitten, twice shy". It's more like, "Three times bitten and reach out your hand again"!

It's easy to think Peter was a bit of lightweight in terms of forgiving, but he wondered whether seven times would be enough. Peter certainly outclasses me, how about you?

Jesus' answers, "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times". This seems a very demanding requirement to put it mildly. But the parable makes it clear that we have been forgiven far, far more than anything another person could possibly owe us. Father has forgiven us everything, he has sent us away with life when we deserved death. How, then, dare we fail to forgive a brother or sister?

How does this work out in practice for us? How will we treat people when they let us down, make promises they fail to keep, take what is ours, or leave us in the lurch? Well, we must forgive them - this time, next time, and again and again and again. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray he included the words, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us".

Forgiving the same person repeatedly is a challenge for us all, but it's a challenge we must rise to and succeed in. Be like your Father in heaven, pour out good things on all without distinction. Be gentle, be patient, be merciful.

The world will notice. Whether they respond in growing love or in deepening hatred is not the point. It's all part of being a disciple, demonstrating to a broken world what Jesus is like.

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