The Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
“Lord, how often shall … I forgive?” (v.21) RSV
One of the most priceless gifts we can give to a friend, or even an enemy, is forgiveness. The word ‘forgiveness’ has ’give’ at the heart of it. Indeed the ‘for(e)’ part of it means ‘before’. In other words the word means ‘giving beforehand’. The offender cannot give anything to us until we have first given forgiveness to him. This act cannot be earned, it arises from our mercy and generosity of spirit. They say ‘sorry’ and we say ‘I forgive you’.
This is the way to bring reconciliation. There was a film many years ago that included the catch phrase “Love is not having to say you’re sorry.” I think this is an error. To brush things under the carpet is not to deal with them satisfactorily. The offence has to be acknowledged and the forgiveness clearly given.
Forgiveness should be our heart’s disposition even before any repentance has been expressed by the other person. Remember how Jesus said as he was being nailed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); well, that was forgiving before they asked.
But to forgive before the other person acknowledges their guilt and repents cannot restore relationship, although of course it will do us good by keeping our heart soft and pliable. Reconciliation can only take place when both parties desire it. Even then forgiveness is costly. We have to absorb the pain, offence or whatever has been done against us. Again, we follow our Master when we do this, for he absorbed the cost of our rejection and rebellion and it cost him his life!
He also forgives us again and again. His hope in us is undiminished. That is why he told Peter (and of course it applies equally to us) that we are to forgive each time it is genuinely sought. ‘Seventy times seven’ (v.22) can only mean times without number. Do we love our neighbour?
Lord, you have forgiven me so often, time without number. Help me to have that same attitude in my relationships. Amen.
1 What does Luke teach about forgiveness?
2 What is the condition in the Lord’s Prayer?