Romans 14:7-12 and Matthew 18:21-35
(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.”
His friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?” The other friend replied “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
In our passage from Matthew, the Apostle Peter asked the question that many people would like to ask, but sometimes are too ashamed to ask. Matthew 18:21, “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Seven times forgiving seemed very generous to him because the going rate in that day was three times. According to the Talmud and Rabbinic law, you were obligated to forgive someone three times. But after the third time you could beat the plowshare into a sword and run your opponent through. You were no longer obligated to forgive. In other words, “it was three strikes and you’re out.”
Peter thinks he is being very generous. He doubles the number of times the law demanded, and then added one free pass as a bonus. After all, any Jew knew that the number seven denoted perfection. Peter thought he had arrived at the perfect answer. You had to forgive a brother seven times, and after that the gloves came off.
Jesus’ answer surprises Peter, “Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (v. 22) The King James Version of Jesus’ words for this verse records “-I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
I prefer the KJV version, because it gives us a more infinite number. Seventy-seven times is not four hundred and ninety times that the seventy times seven would be.
Why did Jesus say this about forgiveness? Peter was appealing to the law, but Jesus was appealing to love.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the law it has everything to do with love. The law has limits, love does not. The law keeps count, love does not. The law keeps records, love does not. The law has a long memory, love has no memory.
I am reading a book by Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, titled The Book of Forgiving. I chose to read this book because I encounter people who are living with heart and soul pain, because they have not forgiven a person or people who have hurt them, physically and/or emotionally. This heart and soul pain affects their emotional health as well as their physical health.
African Bishop Desmond Tutu is a retired Anglican clergyman who was instrumental is setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the final defeat of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the policy in South Africa beginning in 1948 which resulted in the segregation and oppression of the native Africans by the whites. Disregard for human worth, because of the color of one’s skin, resulted in abuses which I cannot repeat. Apartheid didn’t officially end until 1994 when a new constitution was ratified. Bishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was one of the most stunning events in history. People who had family members tortured and murdered by white police confronted the officers who had committed these crimes and publicly forgave them.
The reason Desmond Tutu could be so effective in this role is that he himself had to deal with a very personal battle of forgiving someone who had harmed someone he loved.
In this book Tutu tells how as a young boy, he had to watch helplessly as his father verbally and physically abused his mother. He says that he can still recall the smell of alcohol coming from his father’s lips, he can still see the fear in his mother’s eyes, he can still feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.
He writes, “If I dwell in those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same ways he hurt my mother and in ways of which I was incapable of understanding as a small boy. I see my mother’s face and I see this gentle human being whom I loved so very much and who did nothing to deserve the pain inflicted upon her. When I recall this story, I realize how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he was in pain. Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. But it is still difficult. The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.”
As we go through the next few weeks, The Forgiving Book by Desmond Tutu is going to inspire forgiveness in us that will affect our life. Instead of just saying, ‘I forgive the person who has hurt me,’ we will experience true ‘Heart Forgiveness.’
Desmond writes, “Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but it is not easy.”
Through these next weeks we are going to walk Desmond’s Fourfold path of forgiving: Telling the story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship.
You have a prayer insert in your bulletin. I encourage you to begin praying this prayer everyday as we begin our path of forgiving. Each one of us has people in our past and there will be people in our future, who will hurt us and who will need forgiving if we are to be healthy in our heart and our soul.
I encourage you to get a notebook specifically for this series. There will be steps along our path of forgiving which you will be asked to record in your notebook. This notebook is for your eyes only; to record your thoughts, emotions, ideas, and progress along our forgiving path.
As I read this book, it is revealed to me that people who have hurt me as a child, youth or adult, I have not really forgiven. I said the words, ‘I forgive them,’ and yet when I hear of my abuser experiencing misfortune, my immediate reaction is not one of compassion, but one of ‘he’s getting what he deserved for hurting me.’ Is there anyone here who can relate to that? Please, be honest with yourself.
Those of you in worship today have been given a stone. The people who are reading this at home or on the church website, please find a palm size stone; small enough to carry in your hand, yet with a weight and size you won’t easily lose. One day this week for a six-hour time period hold the stone in your non-dominant hand. Do not set the stone down for any reason during the six hours. On the back of your prayer insert there are questions for you to answer in your journal.
Desmond Tutu writes in his book, “There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.”
We pray in the prayer we say every Sunday, “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we mean what we pray?
Jesus’ words at the end of the parable we read in Matthew about the unforgiving servant who was handed over to be punished when he did not forgive the debt owed to him were, “So my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
In our passage from Romans 14 we read verses 10-12, “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 judgement seat of God. For it is written “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God. So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”
We begin our journey on our path to Heart Forgiveness.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
Reference: Tutu, Desmond & Mpho, (2014). The book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world. Harper-Collins e-books.
Prayer Before the Prayer
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me, and I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity
in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon
Can I even form the words
Dare I even look?
Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused?
I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of
that fragile thing
That soul trying to rise on the broken
wings of hope
But only out of the corner of my eye
I am afraid of it
And if I am afraid to see
How can I not be afraid to say
Is there a place where we can meet?
You and me
The place in the middle
The no man’s land
Where we straddle the lines
Where you are right
And I am right too
And both of us are wrong and wronged
Can we meet there?
And look for the place where the path begins
The path that ends when we forgive
Carrying the Stone
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu
Questions to answer after you have carried your stone:
1.What did you notice about carrying the stone?
2.When did you notice it the most?
3.Did it hinder any of your activities?
4.Was it ever useful?
5.In what ways was carrying the stone like carrying an unforgiven hurt?
6.Make a list of people you need to forgive in your life.
7.Make another list of all those you would like to have forgive you.