Matthew 18: 21-35 on Sunday September 13th

I don’t mind admitting that I have always found most of the Parables difficult to understand and to identify the message they are portraying. What a difficult Parable that was this morning, not just for Peter and the Other Disciples but perhaps for some of us also – Forgiveness is a difficult and sometimes hard word especially to say or admit to.

 Ask any child to apologise for a wrong doing and you will probably be met with a sulky look, a stamp of the foot or a shake of the head. Even some adults struggle with apologising, perhaps you wouldn’t receive the same response as from the child, but nevertheless we find it difficult at times to apologise or indeed to accept an apology.

How hard it is to forgive when we feel we have been wronged, or indeed to seek forgiveness when we have been in the wrong.

Being corrected is painful for it brings to mind how we have failed, especially those we love or to someone we may look up to and respect.

I can remember an incident as a child of six at Primary School, feeling that I had failed someone I looked up to.  Each Friday afternoon I had to go to the front of the class and sit crossed legged by the Teacher’s Desk, (I won’t tell you her name but I do remember it). I was unable to take part in the fun activities that were going on around me, because I had to try and read aloud to my Teacher, and when I failed I received a slap on the leg.  It wasn’t until compulsory eye tests came in to schools in the early 1950s that it was identified that I needed glasses.  I was long sighted and therefore, was unable to make out the words on the page. Should my Teacher have asked for my forgiveness, I don’t know, after all she was just doing her job wasn’t she? But being corrected in that manner was painful for me, and being singled out each week was also painful.  I dreaded Friday afternoons; and my painful weekly experience went on to affect me for many years.

Asking for forgiveness is an act of humility and yet as challenging as asking for forgiveness is, the granting of forgiveness, can also be challenging. We question whether it is sincerely meant, or sincerely given.  Will it happen again, we might think.

But genuine forgiveness heals relationships by requiring us to let go of past hurts, to wipe the slate clean, to turn a new page. Forgiveness in short, sets things right again. Forgiveness is a powerful healing tool but also an incredibly difficult thing to receive or even to share.

There have been many times in my own life when I have had to seek forgiveness and also been asked for my forgiveness, and some occasions were extremely painful to do, both in the forgiving and being forgiven.

One time I do remember asking for forgiveness and I was pleased to do so, it was around the time of my twenty first birthday, our ‘coming of age’ as it was then. I wanted to thank my parents for loving and taking care of me and for all that I had received from them during my twenty one years, so I wrote them a letter and in that letter as well as thanking them, I also asked for their forgiveness for all the times I hadn’t listened to them, maybe even let them down, or hadn’t done what had been expected of me. My words in my letter asking for forgiveness were met with the emotional response of a hug and the words – “Of course we always forgave you, you are our daughter.” My parents’ forgiveness was limitless. 

William Arnot a 19th century Scottish Minister and theological writer tells of a traveller in Burma, who after fording a river discovered that his body was covered in leeches, busily sucking his blood. His first impulse was to pull the leeches off, but his wise manservant warned him against doing so as part of each leech was buried in the skin and could cause serious infection.  A warm bath sprinkled with special herbs was prepared which irritated but did not kill the leeches; one by one they voluntarily dropped off his body.

Each unforgiven injury rankling in the heart is like a leech sucking our life blood. Arnot goes on to explain – mere human determination to have done with it (whatever ‘IT’ is) will not cast the evil thing away. You must bathe your whole being in God’s pardoning mercy and those venomous creatures will instantly let go their hold.

What is Jesus really saying to us today in this Parable?  Is it the same as it was for Peter and the other Disciples?  Yes – I believe it is – we are being told to forgive without calculation or reservation. Of course this is not always easy to do. But the life of Discipleship is not always easy, it is a balance, we love and offer forgiveness even when we feel unable to because the receiving and giving of forgiveness is central to our faith.

Ian Masson Fraser, the hymn writer, wrote

Forgiveness is your gift – both cleansing and renewing.

To catch us when we drift, our base desire pursuing.

And hugs us back to life and brings us to a feast,

Where all will celebrate your love released.

Your grace goes out to meet the sinful and the doubting.

Your arms and dancing feet speak louder than all shouting.

O God how great your love which takes us empty in

And with our worth unproved lets better life begin.

Are there people we need to forgive but have not?  Are there people we need to ask for forgiveness from but have not?  Is today the day to do it and put things right, and for us to be a reflection of Christ Jesus?  Amen

Hilary.

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