Friday, June 5, 2009

I Have Forgiveness On My Mind

One Sunday, the pastor of my church told a hypothetical story that he thought illustrated the kind of forgiveness we are supposed to practice. His story was about a man, who was a deacon in the church, who did some things wrong and hurt some people in the church. The people tried to talk to the deacon about it, to resolve the issue, but the deacon was unmoving in his position and would not admit to any wrong doing.

It got to the point that the pastor had to interfere. He had a meeting with the deacon and the people who had a grudge against him. What he did was had the people stand in front of their chairs and stood the deacon in front of them and said "Deacon, they say you did xyz, did you" and he said "Yes I did and I'm sorry". Those who forgave him were to remain standing and the people who thought it was unforgivable were to sit down. This was repeated four times, once for each infraction against the people, and by the fourth time no one remained standing. The pastor then told the people who were sitting down that the problem was with them, not the deacon, because we are commanded to forgive.

That story to me is not the model of forgiveness that Jesus would be proud of. Matthew 18:15-21 is what the story above is to illustrate.

15"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"

22Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

The deacon in the above story didn't speak so he could be listened to. He didn't really ask for forgiveness at all. I will not accept a simple "sorry!" from my kids and that is exactly what that deacon did. When I see my kids colouring on the table instead of the paper, I don't accept "sorry!". I stop them from colouring and make them clean up their mess. They are not truly repentant without that consequence. Then they tell me they're sorry, and I tell them that they are forgiven but that the crayons will stay away for the a time. What the deacon did in that story was akin to kids saying "sorry!" and going on as if "sorry!" covers everything.

A proper outcome for that story would be the pastor getting together with the people and the deacon and sitting down with them. People would talk it out "Deacon, you really hurt me when you xyz and this is how". Then the deacon can say his piece "it was unintentional and I am truly sorry for any pain I have caused you". Should the deacon instead decide to say "I did nothing wrong", then treat him like a tax collector. If the forgivee then says "that's not good enough" then call them out for their actions. Just because we are commanded to forgive, does not mean we should accept a meaningless and heartless apology.

18"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

I think that is a two way street. You can bind in heaven by forgiving and seeking forgiveness. You can lose in heaven by not forgiving and by not asking forgiveness or by saying meaningless words to pacify people you have wronged.

When speaking of forgiveness, I don't think Jesus had in mind those who are not repentant going through the motions. After all, how can one forgive someone who is not truly repentant.

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