The Cost of Forgiveness

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There’s probably no greater blessing, but also burden in life, than forgiveness. By its amazing healing power, forgiveness can bring wholeness back to hearts that are brittle, and … broken. Forgiveness brings healing because it has a divine quality to it.  “To err is human; to forgive is divine” (Alexander Pope; An Essay on Criticism).  Trouble is // news-flash! // we ain’t divine. At times, to be honest, it’s near impossible to forgive, no matter how much the anger might be killing us, eating-us-up from the inside. As American author, Anne Lamott sardonically zings us with her typical dark humor: “Not to forgive is like your drinking rat poison, and then waiting for the rat to die” (Traveling Mercies, p.134). And so it is, that St. Paul’s and Jesus’ cruciform Word (cf. Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-33) breaks in upon our stubborn-breaking hearts in our Scripture lessons for this weekend. “Therefore,” says Jesus, “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to …”

Peter’s suggestion of forgiving one’s neighbor 7x (see Matthew 18:21) is not as gracious as it might first sound. Deep down it reveals the natural proclivity in each of us to cut-off the flow of forgiveness after a designated time. Think for example of such expressions: “If you do that just one more time…” Or, “After what he did?! Let him go to …[Omaha]?” Or, “Buster, that was your last chance!” You see, Jesus’ answer, “Not seven but seventy times seven” – does not simply lengthen the times of having to forgive, as if 490 is the cutoff point. Rather, Jesus stands Peter’s question on its head. He answers Peter and us in such a way that the premise on which the question is asked is wrong. Forgiveness isn’t a mathematical formula.  Forgiveness doesn’t end. 

Why? Because forgiveness has its source in God. It doesn’t end because we’re never without debt to God for the grace he gives us – day by day. This is why we begin each Saturday Vespers or Sunday morning worship with the “Order for Confession and Forgiveness.” (It’s not optional.) As Martin Luther explains: “Each day we are in need of being reborn, of experiencing God’s healing touch of forgiveness – [that healing touch which comes to us] in the sacraments, in worship, in prayer, as we gather round God’s Holy Word for us. It’s the greatest treasure we have to share with one another as a Christian community” (LW 35:12, 21; cf. LW 40:26f). Forgiveness received is forgiveness given – without ceasing … 

O yea, and what’s the picture of the Schwinn Spider bike about? “Come and hear” (John 1:39a, 46b)… this weekend, in worship. In the meantime, God’s grace and peace to you.

j.r. christopherson
Senior Pastor