“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.””
Jesus then dives into a parable about the unmerciful servant:
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
~ Matthew 18:23-35
Is forgiveness always easy? Certainly not from an emotional standpoint. Especially when families are torn apart, children are harmed, or hearts are scarred… Yet it is clear when studying what the Bible says about forgiveness that the Lord expects us to forgive one another. Jesus said that God will not forgive us if we are not able to extend forgiveness to our fellow man (Matthew 6:14-15). He even takes this concept a step further and says in Mark 11:25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The Lord grants this kind of forgiveness and mercy to all who believe in Him and are baptized in His name, after we turn away from the things (sin) that separate us from Him.
Psychologists profess the necessity of releasing anger and bitterness, and giving the gift of forgiveness to the offending party whether or not they “deserve” forgiveness, or ask for it, for that matter. Psychology Today has an article titled “The Psychology of Forgiveness,” that said, “Physiologically, higher reported levels of forgiveness were associated with lower white blood cell count and hematocrit levels. White blood cells are an integral part of fighting off diseases and infections. Together, these results highlight the importance of forgiveness – not for the other person, but for you. Don’t allow your mind and your body to go through another day feeling vengeful and angry.” It isn’t surprising that even from a physiological standpoint, following Jesus’ teaching benefits us.
Paul, speaking of a brother who had fallen away and then repented said, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:5-11)
I don’t know about you, my sisters, but when I am in the position of truly asking and needing forgiveness, an enormous weight is lifted after being granted mercy. God, in His infinite love and understanding of our human nature, allowed His precious Son to walk among us, suffer, and die for us… so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. If we ever doubt our value in the Lord’s eyes, meditating on this heavenly gift will bring the comforting security of His steadfast love.
“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
~ Hebrews 2:17-18
Paul writes in Colossians 1:9-14: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
We’ve covered the importance of training our hearts to be willing and ready to forgive one another, and how blessed we are that our Father in heaven grants us mercy when we ask. But how about forgiving ourselves? Don’t we sometimes wish we could turn back time and undo past sin and mistakes?
When we struggle with letting the shame of past mistakes go even after the Lord has forgiven us, let’s meditate on this and praise Him, thanking Him for loving us so fervently, and extend gentle mercy to others with humility and understanding:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.