The X Factor In Forgiveness

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

When my wife and I met for the first time, she had gotten separated from her friends. This was strange experience. We were freshmen at bible college and she usually was found in the presence of 5 other young women her age who all shared the same accommodations. In short, they travelled in a pack.

Living on a small campus in a small town at an age when few of us owned a vehicle meant you got to know people in community. Even when one person caught your eye, you ended up getting to know them in the presence of others. Thankfully for me, I got along pretty well with her roommates so it was no big deal. But they were always a factor in equation of our relationship for that first bit. Sometimes it’s easy to miss those added factors and how much they change your relationships.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:35

Jesus tells the parable of the Unmerciful servant and the point is straightforward. Forgive, especially if you have been forgiven. And of course, we have been forgiven much.

But here’s the rub. The focus of the conflict in Jesus’ parable is only very rarely our focus in conflicts requiring forgiveness. We tend to think of transgression against one another and the need for forgiveness in very transactional terms. I am hurt, there is a relational debt between us, and either I need to forgive it or the other party needs to make restitution (or both).

Jesus lifts our eyes and elevates our conflict. There is a spiritual dimension to it. Note how Matthew brings this parable right on the heels of Jesus’ ‘how-to’ directions on dealing with sin in the church. Little white lies and innocuous gossip are audible in heaven.

And so Jesus says ‘Forgive’ in gracious, magnanimous and plentiful ways. Not on the basis of another’s worthiness (because if they were worthy, you wouldn’t have trouble forgiving), not on the basis of your own noble character (because however noble you are, it doesn’t get you to 490 acts of forgiveness [see vs. 22]), but on the basis of being on the receiving end of gracious, magnanimous and plentiful forgiveness yourself.

When I think about my own wicked and stubborn heart (present tense!), I realize that everything, from someone’s curt instant message to a deep injustice, is forgivable. This does not always result in reconciled relationship (nor should it), but the forgiveness can happen. All our relationships are three dimensional when we take in the presence of our heavenly Father.

Lord, soften my hardened heart. Help me forgive as I have been forgiven.

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