The Gospel reading (Matthew 18:21-35) for this week is Jesus’ admonition that while forgiveness has no limits, i.e., seventy-seven times, there is a qualifier. One who has been forgiven must exercise the same mercy toward others. I am persuaded that most of us never plumb the depths of what Jesus is asking of mature disciples. Forgiveness is a “shattering experience,” in the words of H.R. Mackintosh—shattering to the one who offers it as well as the one who receives it. Forgiveness requires that we acknowledge how deeply we have been wounded as well as truth-telling about our capacity to wound others. Neither of these aspects of the human condition is easy for frail humans to bear, but living into this reality brings wholeness.
Forgiveness may be the hardest spiritual practice of all. By nature, we seek to justify ourselves—either blaming others for our actions or clinging to personal affront to use against our offender. Either approach hinders healing and hope.
Forgiveness takes us to the very heart of the Gospel. As Martin Luther wrote, God’s wrath has been submerged in mercy. Grace, thus, is the trajectory of Scripture’s narration of God’s ways with humanity. Humanity has been shown great mercy in God’s gracious self-giving through Christ. We who have been shown mercy should offer it, according to Jesus’ parable. Forgiveness is a way of life; in this, we are becoming like our maker.