“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is not at all easy to forgive those who have done wrong to us; who have harmed us. As a little girl, as I had mean words hurled at me, my heart broke. I was not going to easily forgive those individuals who were teasing me. Yet when we forgive others there is a holiness that happens; a holiness that comes only in the forgiveness given to us by God.
Several years ago, I was serving on a synod council when one of our synod employees was caught embezzling money. It took everything in me to not hate this man. I finally can admit that this man was a broken sinful man who made a choice that has consequences. Yet I will never forget a story that happened in the beginning days of this case. His neighbors invited this man and his wife over for dinner. They sat and broke bread together. These neighbors wanted this man and his wife to know they still loved him despite what he had done. They knew it was the sin and not the sinner. I don’t know if I could have sat at that table knowing what this man had done. Yet there is a beauty in this forgiveness.
Jesus himself sat and broke bread with Judas and Peter knowing full well what was yet to come. Judas would betray him. Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed and Jesus breathed his last. Despite his unfaithfulness to Jesus, Jesus still washed Judas’ feet; the ultimate example of love and sacrifice in this world. In these moments, we are once again reminded of the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness takes everything we have in ourselves. I think of the text from Matthew where Peter asks, “How many times shall I forgive a brother or sister; seven times? To which Jesus responds, “No seventy times seven.” In other words, we are constantly going to be asked to forgive others and to also be forgiven for our own sins. We will fail, but we must continue to try again and again.
On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” In those words, God’s people are freed to forgive, not seven times but seventy times seven times. We are freed to forgive and be forgiven.