Throughout the month of September, we have been talking about God’s command to all followers of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor. Yet one faithful follower asked Jesus directly, how many times am I supposed to forgive those people that I am commanded to love? To answer him, Jesus gave him a parable.
This story is found in Matthew 18:21-35. There was a man deeply in debt who begged to be forgiven of a debt he could never pay off in his lifetime. Unbelievably, he was fully forgiven for his huge debt. Later that day, someone came to the same man and asked him to forgive him of a much smaller debt, but the man who knew great forgiveness of debt refused to forgive a much smaller debt. This encounter made it back to the first person that forgave the huge debt.
When he heard of the hard-forgiving heart of the one he forgave, he revoked his decision to forgive his debt and threw the man into prison. So, what does this teach us? I think this teaches us that loving our neighbor gets personal here. When we think of loving my neighbor, we generally think about all of humanity. Loving all humans. But when we hear we must forgive that person in our life that irritates the heck out of us and constantly pushes our buttons, that gets a lot harder.
Yet, and this is a big yet. Yet, if we desire God’s love and forgiveness, we must forgive again, and again, and again. You see, God was not kidding when he said to us to love, to forgive, to share, to build up our world that is breaking down around us. We live in a world that is angry and mad at each other. We are commanded to look like Christ and that means we must be a forgiving people. Let me be clear. We can only forgive by the grace of Jesus Christ. We can only do what Christ asks of us because of the Holy Spirit that resides in me and in you.
This past Sunday we talked about the radical love that inspires us to do the tough thing is also the same radical love that will empower us to forgive the person that we don’t want to forgive. Please don’t ever hear this as an excuse to take abuse by someone who holds power over you. Rather, hear this as a warning to us that God is serious about loving and forgiving that will be impossible outside of the help of the Holy Spirit. Radical love is how we are all going to be the church, be a Christian, and be the body of Christ.