Jesus came to bring peace in our relationship with God, our relationship with our own sin, the entire world, and also our relationships.
Maybe this part of Jesus’ message of peace is difficult for you because like me, you’ve been hurt by others. I’ve been hurt in my life, deeply hurt by those I love. I bet, though, that you have been hurt worse than I have. Perhaps, your hurt is more recent than mine, is darker than mine, is deeper than mine. I’m not here to try to one-up your pain. Comparing moments of grief is like comparing apples and oranges—it is pointless. But no matter your circumstance or mine one fact remains—they both hurt.
At our core after someone hurts us really, really badly, we all think: How far is too far?
What we are all asking is this: where is the line in the sand?
Or where is the acceptable point where any reasonable person would say: “You’re justified in ending this relationship. It is not on your shoulders to make this right. Instead the guilt lies with them.”
We aren’t alone in this sentiment. In fact, people have been asking this question for a long, long time. One of Jesus’ closest friends asked him the same thing:
“Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:21-22)
I can identify with Peter here, because I have experienced the same desperation and self-righteousness. When he asked this question, Peter was probably feeling pretty good about himself. He probably reasoned that a good man might forgive someone for the same offense 5 times, but Peter was a great man (or perhaps he considered himself to be one), so he would forgive seven.
Jesus took one look at Peter’s smug face and said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus took Peter’s “good intentions” and blew his mind. [He does this a lot in the gospels and I love it. Just check out the Sermon on the Mount. If you were ever convinced that you could live a holy life on your own, He shows us there that we need Him! No one can measure up.]
Now, if Jesus had stopped there, we might all be justified in getting out our notebook and keeping a tally of offenses. “Once you’ve hurt me seventy-seven times you’re out! Jesus said so, and if I can feel justified by anyone, it would be him.” But, of course, Jesus didn’t stop there. He began to tell a story.
“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.” Matt. 18: 23-35
What is Jesus saying?
He’s saying that there is no line in the sand, not for Christians at least. We are the man in that story. We’ve been forgiven a debt (our sin) that we cannot pay. How can we who have been forgiven everything refuse to forgive others?
The passage suggests that if we continually harbor bitterness and refuse to forgive others that perhaps we have not tasted forgiveness ourselves. Perhaps, we are not really a part of God’s kingdom. That’s a sobering thought.
What is forgiveness, then?
Forgiveness is not forgetting. That is the worst cliché. God hasn’t forgotten our sin. Instead he died for it. It was a painful, costly sacrifice.
We don’t excuse or forget the offense of the person who has wronged us. Instead, forgiveness is choosing every day to not hold something against someone else. I think that is the hardest part. Forgiveness is painful and it necessarily requires sacrifice on the part of the forgiver. The king in the story forgave the debt of the man, and had to “eat the cost.” The debt didn’t go away, instead the king absorbed that cost. Sacrifice may mean forgiving hurt, mending your own car, not asking for borrowed money back.
How is this possible?
We know as Christians that Jesus dealt with all sin on the cross. The hurt that you may feel because someone wronged you is real; it is sin and it is so serious that Jesus died for it. He bore all of the weight of that sin. He has brought about true justice and true peace.
Then, as children of God as members of his Kingdom we are free to forgive, because we have been forgiven and our sin and the sin of individual who has hurt us has been dealt with.
There is no line in the sand. As God’s children we have the privilege of forgiving others and in doing so point others to the unconditional love of God. So when we feel our heart asking, “How much is too much?” or “This is too far,” we must remind ourselves of the depth of our own sin and meditate on the mercy of God and forgive—really and truly. In this way we share God’s peace to others, not by ignoring their sin, but by freely forgiving them.