Forgiveness – There should be no limit


It has been almost eleven years since the event that changed many lives in Nickel Mines, Penn. It was the day that Charles Roberts IV walked into a one room school house in an Amish community, ordered the men and boys to leave at gun point, tied up ten little girls, aged 6 to 13, killed five of them, injured the others, then killed himself.

Charles’ parents thought they would have to move away, as so many times the parents take the blame for what their adult children do, and in many cases are driven out of their communities by those who would seek vengeance.Instead a man named Henry came to their home to tell them that the couple were not seen as an enemy, but as parents who were also grieving the loss of their child.

On the day of their son’s funeral, nearly 30 Amish men and women came, and formed a wall to block the media cameras. Each of the parents who had lost daughters approached the couple after the funeral and offered their condolences.

The Amish did more than forgive the couple. They embraced them as part of their community. When Charles Roberts’ mother developed cancer, one of the survivors cleaned her house while she was in the hospital. At Christmas, a school bus full of children came to sing carols at their home.

A professor of Amish studies noted that while many people forgive after a long, emotional struggle with a tragedy, the Amish forgive first, then work through their emotions. They decide to forgive first, before thinking about their own pain.

When one reporter asked an Amish man how they could forgive such a terrible crime, he said they take the words of the Lord’s Prayer seriously. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In our Gospel reading today, Peter asked a very poignant question.

He said to Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Seven is one of those biblical numbers that indicates completion. Remember how the LORD rested on the seventh day?

Jesus’ answer is not really meant to be interpreted as 490 times. It is meant to indicate an infinite number. There should be no limit to forgiveness.

To reinforce the concept, Jesus tells a parable. What is interesting is that the parable is about a servant who does not forgive, and the consequences.

And this is not just any parable. It’s a Kingdom of Heaven parable. That makes it very important.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who wanted to settle his debts. He had lent money, or had given food or other goods, and was owed repayment. It was time to settle up.

A servant who owed money to the king could not pay, and he would have put the servant in prison until he could pay, but the servant begged and pleaded with the king. The king had mercy on the servant, and forgave the debt.

That servant represents us when we go before the LORD to be judged at the last day. We will most likely please and beg before him, not to sent us away, but to welcome us into heaven.

In the parable, we see that the servant then went and demanded money from one who owed him, and that servant begged and pleaded to be forgiven of his debt. But instead of forgiving the debt, like what was done for him, he did not listen, and had that servant put into prison until he could pay.

Now according to the laws of commerce and capitalism, he had every right to do so. But he did not have mercy, and when the king found out he had not had mercy on the other servant, he was mad! He took back his mercy and had the first servant put into prison. He had been shown mercy, but he could not show mercy on another.

The parable ends with the lesson of the story:

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus is saying that if we do not forgive others, neither will be be forgiven.

This is a lesson that is lost on the modern world. There is very little forgiveness going around. Instead there is lots of vengeance.

People who have been at the fringes of society have built up a lot of anger over the smallest things. They like to take out their anger on anyone who looks vulnerable, or even on an inanimate object. They tend to blame everyone else for their own problems. They will strike out at others, burn cars, and tear down statues, but they will never know peace. Why? Because there is no forgiveness.

Listen to the lesson from Ecclesiasticus:

Anger and wrath, these are abominations,
yet a sinner holds on to them.
The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance,
for he keeps a strict account of their sins.
Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done,
and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.

The words of that last sentence seem very similar to the Lord’s Prayer, don’t they?

Many people like to judge others, to find faults, to put others down.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans about this.

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”

We must remember that we too, will be judged by God at the last day. We will not be able to hide anything from the Judge. And if we do not forgive others, then we are not following Jesus.

Look at the example of the Amish. They forgive every day, no matter what is done to them. Why? Because they understand that they are sinners, and that their own sins are forgiven. It’s a good lesson, and one that I hope all of us will take to heart.

St. Paul also wrote to the Romans these often repeated words: “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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