“I am a Christian … I must forgive” Midweek Musing for 8/18/21
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22 NIV
Over the last several decades the church has discovered that international mission is far more successful when the visiting group partners with the group they are helping. By listening to one another, learning about one another, and creating relationships the projects are far more successful and typically sustain for the long term. Projects where a group comes in and "does mission to" a group in need typically fails to bear fruit. Thus, churches often now send small groups to visit an area and learn before discussing projects.
From one of these short-term fact finding and relationship building trips I heard the following story which has stuck with me.
A few years ago, a group of Americans were on a mission trip to the city of La Entrada in Honduras seeking to discover how they might be in partnership with the local churches and service organizations there in order to help support them in meeting the community’s needs.
As part of their travels, they made visits to the families of school children in some of the impoverished areas of the city. These families’ poverty did not allow them money to buy their children even basic school supplies so that they could send their children to the “free schools” that several churches offered. The Americans sat in the homes of those families, heard about their struggles, and began considering ways they could support these families both financially and with their time and talents.
A key member of this team was a Honduran man named Kelvin. Kelvin taught at one of the bilingual schools and had been hired by these missionary fact finders to act as a translator for the Americans. He had spent time studying in the states and instead of staying abroad had felt the call of Christ to return home and teach in the local community.
Kelvin’s work with the team was invaluable. While some of the Americans knew some Spanish, they did not have the correct dialect, understanding of colloquial expressions or the ability to discuss finer points of discussions without error.
At the beginning of the second day of visits, the translator announced that he would have to leave the team because one of his fellow Hondurans had insulted him. This created a huge problem, since the Americans really needed Kelvin’s translating abilities.
One of the Americans tried to mediate this conflict in English, while one of the Hondurans tried to intercede in Spanish. Finally, Kelvin said that he would be willing to continue his work with the group.
Kelvin proclaimed aloud, “I am a Christian. I must forgive.”
Friends what a simple yet astoundingly profound thought: “I am a Christian … I must forgive.”
These seven words compose a statement of truth for all who follow Christ. Of course, this statement is far easier said than done.
Yet we learn from Jesus’s conversation with Peter in the Gospel of Matthew it is that if we are to be faithful disciples we must forgive. We hear in this text that forgiveness begins as a choice and then becomes a process.
Friends, first, we choose to forgive and then we follow through with it, forgiving again and again and again.
Eugene Peterson in The Message interprets Matthew 18:21-22 in this way. At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
Peterson’s choice to use the word hurt as a synonym really hit home with me. Forgiving a sin sounds easy – we ask for that every Sunday in the Apostle’s Creed but forgiving someone who has hurt you…that is a lot harder.
To be transparent, I have not always gotten to that fully forgiving point with some people because of the deep hurts they have caused me. Though I continue to try to let go of my anger and resentment I have not always gotten there.
I do continue to pray that I might be able to really let it go but alas I am not there with some things yet…
Sometimes this fact causes me great consternation. I worry that when I say the Lord’s Prayer and I get to the part where I say, “Forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtor.” (For you Baptists out there, substitute trespasses for debts.)
I realize what I really should be praying is “forgive me my debts…my trespasses…my sins…forgive the hurts I have caused you and others; and do so with far greater grace than I am able to give.”
The Good News however is that as Paul declares in 2nd Corinthians 12 – God’s Grace is sufficient even when we are weak. God’s grace is as the hymn declares amazing.
Friends, may we seek to forgive those who have hurt as we have been forgiven by God for the pain we have caused. And in so doing we will be showing to the world what the kingdom of God is truly like.