The Grudge - Week Three: 490 Times (And Counting)
Today we are concluding the sermon series, "The Grudge," a series that has been focused on letting go of past hurts in order to move forward.
Over the past couple of weeks we've been learning about the importance of letting go of grudges, and how the people who get hurt the most when holding a grudge happen to be... us.
We've also learned how the hardest person to forgive is typically us, too.
But today we will be turning our attention to others, and discovering just how many times we have to forgive---according to Jesus.
I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness over the course of this quarantined existence that we've been living through over the past two months and change.
There are some things that keep happening in my house that I'm finding hard to forgive. Mostly this relates to my kids, unfortunately. Being trapped in the house with them has brought me face to face with some pretty unforgivable behavior that has tested my mettle, if you know what I mean.
How hard is it to replace the toilet paper when the toilet paper runs out on your watch? Apparently for my kids it's pretty freaking hard. This is unforgivable.
And there's this...
The dishwasher has been emptied. There is nothing in the dishwasher except dirty dishes. The sink is right next to the dishwasher. Why in the love of all that is holy is it so hard for my kids to put their dishes in the dishwasher? Unforgivable.
They can't seem to find the things they need to do their online schooling, but they sure as hell can find the ice cream I've hidden in the fridge that's in my dad's side of the house. Or the tiny cans of Dr. Pepper I squirreled away out of sight. Or the leftover curry I was craving for lunch... the list goes on and on. Unforgivable.
I have an impressive set of glasses that we use every day to drink from. It makes me feel good when I have all of those glasses washed and lined up like little soldiers in my cabinet.
The fact that I have to go around the house picking up all of the glasses that get left every where is maddening, and then to realize that there are multiple glasses in the same spot in the game room... and when I say multiple I mean like seven... that frosts me to no end. Use the same glass. You just drank water out of it.
You can tell that this quarantine thing is totally agreeing with me. I'm completely good, right? Just having a little problem with forgiveness.
But in all seriousness... I've been doing a lot of thinking about forgiveness this week as I was planning what to say today... and I've come to the conclusion that people will absolutely provide you with more than one opportunity to forgive them.
So here's a big question...
How many times should you forgive someone who has hurt you?
What if the hurt was deep?
What if it was more than you could bear?
What if they kept doing it... over and over again?
Our gut, and probably our closest friends would tell us that at some point you have to cut your losses. You have to just resign yourself to the fact that you will live in unforgiveness when it comes to that person.
But the problem that we've already identified is that living that way does nothing but mess you up, not them.
Do you want to be free from this? There's only one way, according to Jesus. And it's the one thing that I want us to hold on to today throughout this entire sermon:
When you forgive you offer the grace you have been given.
Our guide today is from the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35 which reads:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Peter offers up a pretty generous number in terms of forgiveness, don't you think? It was well within the range of more than what was required. But Jesus was all about doing more than the minimum, or even what the religious traditions of his day thought might be a bit extravagant.
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus responds by upping Peter's amount to an extravagance. 70 times 7. This recalls a passage from the Torah, the book of Genesis 4:23-24, that references what has been known as the Curse of Cain.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
There's a reason why Jesus does this---he is pointing to something important in his usual round about way. We'll get to that in a second. Then Jesus tells a story:
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Most of the time when I've heard this story, I've been told that the king in the story is obviously a metaphor for God, which creates a whole set of problems that we don't have time to solve right now.
But sometimes we just need to let the stories speak for themselves. Sometimes Jesus told a story that contained a great truth, and the disciples didn't need to really read into it.
This servant was probably a CFO of sorts at the top of a very big pyramid that ended with the king. He owed millions, probably because he had over spent and then could not collect what he owed from the people beneath him on the pyramid.
The fact that he was given grace would have sent shock waves down the pyramid. Those who owed the servant money would have known just how much he owed and what was absolved.
So it seems surprising that the servant then moves on to shake someone down who owes a little debt---100 denarii.
By contrast the servant who was absolved had owed 54,750,000 denarii.
Why did this servant do this? It seems that he was unable to accept the new economy that the king had offered him. In the new economy, the largesse that the king offered should have been sent down the pyramid.
Instead, the servant chose to live in the old economy, and it cost him.
Jesus basically asks his followers here: Which world do you want to live in? Do you want to live in the old word marked by the Curse of Cain---a world that is full of envy, hatred, violence and retribution?
Or do you want to live in a world based on extravagant grace, forgiveness and shalom? The kind of world where one of the recipients of that grace, forgiveness and peace... is you?
A world where you can be set free... free from the pain and hurt that unforgiveness causes.
Jesus wanted his followers to know that the moment you begin counting how many times you have forgiven... you slip right into that old world.
Let's get practical about this for a moment... let's talk about the things we need to know about the kind of forgiveness we are talking about.
First of all forgiveness is not forgetting.
That old chestnut---Forgive and Forget---doesn't work, exactly. If you are going to forgive and forget, you need to forget about counting the number of times you have forgiven... you need to forget about your pride... you need to forget about the old world of retribution.
But you should not forget that you need to be careful with some people because they are toxic.
And you should definitely not forget what it feels like to be forgiven yourself.
Second, forgiveness isn't fair.
When my kids tell me that some decision I've made regarding their well-being isn't fair, I usually tell them that the "fair comes to town once a year." I know, that's pretty cold, right?
You've been forgiven. You've been given grace. That's not fair, it's loving and extravagant.
And the moment you start worrying about whether or not your forgiving someone when they are unrepentant... or if they have not changed their behavior... you've missed the point of grace.
Let's get real. What might be fair to someone who has hurt you is that you hurt them back. Or that you wish for them to have bad things happen to them. Or maybe you rejoice when bad things do happen to them on account of what they've done to you. That might be fair, in the way that we understand fairness. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye.
Jesus took that whole eye for an eye thing and blew it up. That's what the old world was all about. Someone steals your goat. You take their hand. Someone abuses your daughter, you take their life. Someone owes you money, and can't pay it back... you toss them in prison until someone bails them out.
Jesus turned that out, and calls us to choose a different world where grace abounds, even if it isn't fair.
Finally, Forgiveness is about giving what you have been given.
Jesus once told his followers that if they wanted to learn how to pray they needed to pray a particular prayer---the one we just prayed earlier in the service... the Lord's Prayer. The only part he really elaborated on was the part about debts and debtors. He told his followers, "You've been absolved of debt. Now do the same with others."
The grace we've been given demands only one response. Give it to others.
And listen, forgiving someone doesn't mean that you have to be around them. You may need to be far away from them, in fact. But you can forgive them even if they don't respond, or receive it... or even if they think they've done nothing to be forgiven for.
The question we should be asking here is not "How much should I forgive?"
It should be: "How much do I want to be free?"
When you put it in those terms---it becomes easy to forgive without counting, without keeping score. You want to be free so much that you just keep doing it.
You find yourself saying, "I choose to forgive out of faith... because of grace... and because I want to be free."
Hey, we're coming back to that original assignment that we gave at the beginning of all of this. The one where I challenged you to reach out to that person you were estranged from, or that you needed to forgive in order to be free.
To all of you who haven't done that yet... now is the time. Don't wait.
And for those of you who don't want to reach out to that person because you absolutely don't need to be in relationship with them... now is the time to let them go in absentia. Don't wait. It's time to be free.
Because When you forgive you offer the grace you have been given.