Today’s reading is Luke 17.
Since I missed putting up a message this past Monday, I thought I’d give you a bonus weekend message and wrap up this series on Jesus’s incredibly hard teaching on forgiveness. And, apologies up front. It will be a little longer than usual.
In the earlier messages we focused on the person Jesus focused on, the person who needs to forgive. There is one draw back to that approach. It ignores the person who needs forgiveness. Perhaps I should say, the one who needs to repent. Sadly, that person is often quick to jump on the one from whom they want to receive forgiveness, twist this teaching, weaponize it, and misuse it in an attempt to actually ignore their own sin all while making the person who may be responsible to forgive look like the bad guy. With that in mind, let’s remember some foundational concepts about repentance and forgiveness. First, as I pointed out to the children in yesterday’s post, notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I repent,” not “I’m sorry.” The statement of “I repent” doesn’t mean I simply feel sorry for what I’ve done or for the consequences. It means I’m going to change my behavior. As I say, “I repent,” I should be willing to say what the behavior change is actually going to be. If I don’t actually plan to change my behavior, can’t even name the behavior that needs to be changed, and am unwilling to commit to the new behavior, then I’m not actually repenting, am I? Second,”I repent” is not a magical phrase that automatically obligates forgiveness. That is, even in Jesus’s teaching, the phrase “I repent” is predicated on actual repentance. “If he repents, forgive him.” Jesus’s follow-up statement about the person coming seven times in a day and saying “I repent” is figure of speech called synecdoche. That is, it is using one part of the process to refer to the whole process. It mentions only the spoken promise of repentance to refer to real repentance. While the person who is forgiving is not granted permission from Jesus to withhold forgiveness until repentance is proven by changed behavior throughout even that day, there are some people adept at saying “I repent” while actually demonstrating they don’t repent at all. For instance: “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey. I won’t do that anymore. But when the house is a mess when I get home, I just can’t help myself. Why do you make me do that?” Let’s face it, that apologizer said some words of repentance (“I won’t do that anymore”), but also demonstrated that he is not repenting at all. He has actually demonstrated he doesn’t believe his action is a sin, but is the natural and only response to his wife’s action. He is actually declaring she is the one in sin. Further, he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, saying he will change the behavior while also saying he will only change his behavior if she changes hers. That is neither an actual apology, a correct confession, or remotely real repentance. Third, when asking for forgiveness, we are asking for mercy. Mercy is never owed. In other words, when I am truly asking for forgiveness, I realize I’m asking for something I have absolutely no permission to demand. I cannot remotely view the person I’m asking as if my mere request for it obligates them to give it. Then it wouldn’t be mercy, would it? It may truly be that the person I’m asking forgiveness from is required by God to forgive me. But that is something they owe God, not something they owe me. God can demand it. He can send messengers to teach them about it. But I don’t ever get to be that messenger. I never get to demand forgiveness. I merely get to ask and hope they will respond. Until they do, I need to humbly remember my sins were the cause of this struggle not their lack of forgiveness. The moment I start acting like someone is obligated to forgive me, I’ve ceased asking for forgiveness. I have actually demonstrated I am not really repenting at all. This leads to our fourth foundational concept. I should read this passage for what it says to me, not what it says to the person on the other side of it. In other words, if I am the one who sinned, I shouldn’t take this passage as a sermon to preach to the person whom I want to forgive me. In like manner, if I am the one who is sinned against, I really shouldn’t take it as a sermon to preach against the one who sinned (remembering, of course, part of the lesson it teaches me is I need to love someone enough to rebuke them). Finally, the fifth foundational concept is that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences. For instance, God forgave David. However, the child still died, Absalom still rebelled and publicly humiliated David by going into his father’s concubines, and on the list of consequences goes. If I embezzle funds from the business my best friend and I started together, when I repent, he may forgive me. However, he is not obligated to maintain the business with me. If I commit adultery, when I repent, my wife may forgive me. However, she is not obligated to stay married to me. When some of us ask for forgiveness, what we really want is the removal of all consequences, then we want to treat the people through whom those consequences come as if they haven’t obeyed God. Granted, this can get very complex, very quickly. Each forgiver has to wrestle with what is simply natural consequences and what is continued acts of punishment. I can’t provide cut and dried rules for you on that one. But, at this point, the person being forgiven needs to remember foundational concept #3. When I’m being forgiven, I don’t get to make demands about what that looks like. I don’t get to treat others like they are obligated to forgive me in a certain way. After all, as we learned above, forgiveness is mercy. Therefore, it is never owed to me.
Monday’s reading is Luke 18.
Continue reading “Please, Forgive Me”