October 9, 2016: How many times must I forgive?

Posted on : Oct 6th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Here is a really challenging question: “How many times should I forgive someone who hurts me or sins against me?”

This is a most interesting and relevant question for our lives today as we struggle with the question of whether we should repeal (end) the death penalty or speed up executions of those sentenced to death. It’s certainly relevant in the case of a young adult male college student who raped a comatose woman and received a sentence of 6 months in jail, from which he received early release after just three months in prison. On Tuesday of this week, an African America woman, a mother whose son was killed by the police, stood before the LA police commission meeting and screamed: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth. You killed my son. Now it is only right for us to kill you.” (referring to LA police officers).

Peter, the disciple whom Jesus selects to be the next gen leader of the Church and the one who the night of Jesus’ arrest denies not once or twice but three times even knowing Jesus, this Peter asks Jesus: “How many times should I forgive someone who hurts me (or sins against me)?” Peter offers a bold answer to his own question: “Seven times?”

Actually, Peter is being extremely generous with his suggested answer. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary, citing Amos 1:3-13 where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. By offering forgiveness more than double that of what the Rabbis taught, Peter was being extremely generous (or gracious).

“Seven” in Jewish spirituality also symbolizes “completion.” According to Jewish tradition, God created everything that exists in seven days, and on the seventh day, God rested.” (Genesis 2:2) Peter’s offer to forgive someone seven times is not only generous but symbolizes completion.

But Jesus comes back with a heart-breaking answer to Peter’s question: “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.” Ouch! 7×70=490. Is Jesus really telling us to forgive those who hurt us, those who sin against us, 490 times?   Not exactly.

The answer to this question may be found in the testimonies of those who have experienced grave harm by others. Many times we’ve heard it from family members at sentencing hearings in court: “I forgive you.” And from victims of sexual assault: “I forgive you.” How can they say that? Do they really mean it?

Jesus answered this complex question with a parable – a story. Jesus’ story used situations that were common in his day. Today, the story could well be the people I mentioned above. It may be summed up in the words of a man to the convicted killer of his wife: “I forgive you because I have no better choice. You’ve taken my wife’s life. You are not taking mine.”

More on Sunday.




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 18:21-35

From: The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible

A Story About Forgiveness

21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask Jesus, “Rabbi, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

22 Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

23-25 “The kindom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

26-27 “The poor servant threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

28 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

29-31 “The poor servant threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

32-35 “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what our God is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

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