“Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-35
If you imagine the person who has hurt you most in this life, are you in a place where you have fully forgiven them? For your sake, I hope the answer is yes. But my own experience is that forgiveness is rather more difficult at times. I may think I’ve reached a place of peace, acceptance, and forgiveness and then find myself stirred up again. I might need a little more time licking my wounds before I can then again achieve a steadier state of having released that pain.
When you imagine the person you have hurt most in this life, are you in a place where you have forgiven yourself? Or like your own wounds does it resurface periodically? Do you have to remind yourself you did the best you could at the time? Have you made every effort at reconciliation? If that person has said they’ve forgiven you, do you really believe this?
What I often miss when I read this passage in Matthew is that Peter is actually starting from a pretty generous place. To offer to forgive someone seven times from your community, especially if it's for the same offense, is probably going the extra mile for most of us. And yet Jesus responds that regardless of how many times we think is enough, the answer is probably more. The only way I can hear this that is not utterly discouraging is to realize that forgiveness is a spiritual practice. We are not meant to “arrive” at a steady state of forgiveness. Rather, we are meant to engage in its resurfacing absence as an invitation to go deeper.
The place of depth for me is encountering the grace and forgiveness God offers. It’s about the strength of that relationship that allows me to strengthen the relationships I have with those I’m closest to. The more I know myself to have been accepted, loved, and seen—the more I can allow my wounds to be healed. The more I see my own inability to avoid hurting those I love, the more heavily I can fall on the mattress of God’s grace. The reminders of my own limits, whether it is to forgive those who have hurt me or my failure to not wound remind me that its only in God that we are made whole. Forgiveness is about consenting to be in a relationship that allows vulnerability with one another and with God. It is only then that we can find true healing.
The collect for this Sunday says it better than I can.
“O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” Collect Proper 19