“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. - Matthew 6: 14-15
Ouch! Doesn’t Jesus say some uncomfortable things sometimes!
It’s one thing to be excited about God’s grace to us , but another to be required to extend that grace to others. Perhaps Jesus knew that the disciples would tend to skip over the “as we forgive others” part of the Lord’s prayer, so He added this footnote so that it would be crystal clear that there was no wriggling out of it!
Forgiving those who have hurt us can seem like a really unreasonable demand- after all, we tell ourselves, doesn’t holding on to the hurt and resentment protect us from being hurt again in the future?
In contrast, Jesus is particularly insistent that forgiveness must be a way of life for His followers.
He continually reinforces the enormity of the debt we have been forgiven in his interactions with his disciples. The parable of the man who was forgiven the equivalent of 200 000 years wages by the king, but would not forgive the one hundred days’ wages his friend owed him, leaves us all fuming with this man’s lack of perspective. But while we are nodding in agreement with the justice of this man’s punishment, he brings it uncomfortably close to home with these words:
”This is how your heavenly Father will treat all of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart”.
When we realise that all our wrongs have ultimately been committed against God; all our sinful words, deeds, even evil intentions, across our whole life; then what a drop in the bucket someone else’s hurtful actions are in comparison. Instead of clutching on to our own self-righteous indignation, can we allow God to gently use the hurt as an opportunity for self-reflection?
For example, if someone has been talking about us behind our backs; have we never done the same to others? If someone lied to us in a blatant, significant way; have we never lied, perhaps in smaller ways, which we easily justify?
A final thought for today. Author Robin Jones Gun explains that there is a certain Greek word, “aphiemi”, which is used only twice in the New Testament. The first time it is translated, ”Let him go”; spoken to Mary and Martha after Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave. After four days in the tomb, the strips of linen which covered Lazarus’ body would have begun to set like plaster, so a hands-on process of ripping and tearing was needed to free him from his encasement.
This word “aphiemi” can also mean to, “lay aside, let go, omit, forgive”. The second and final time it is used is Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”.
So, can we peel back the layers of bitterness which may encase our heart, and allow God to set free and revive both our own hard hearts and those who have hurt us?
Are we able to give over those who have hurt us to the forgiveness and healing of our Father, who alone can offer true forgiveness, freedom and restoration?
In this area, perhaps even more than others, we can’t rely on our own strength or warm feelings to do the forgiving. Perhaps this is why Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. When we pray, “Father, forgive them”, we are acknowledging that only He has the power of ultimate forgiveness, and what is impossible for us can be made possible by His Spirit. We can acknowledge our own struggle in this area, and in a sense, leave the heavy lifting of forgiveness to God, who alone makes it possible.