How many times do I have to forgive?

Pastor Asafa Rajaofera

How many times do I have to forgive?

5 mins

Matthew 18:21-35

21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

"But Lord, how many times do I have to forgive? Seven times?"

I have heard it put this way: "Without forgiveness of sins, there is really no future for us." When we have a serious falling out with someone and there is not forgiveness, our future with that someone is forever closed. The past then controls the future.

A true story comes to mind: After retiring as a nurse, Janet Colby decided to work part-time as a school bus driver transporting elementary school kids. One day as the kids got off the bus at school, she didn't see Jonathan. She knew Jonathan had gotten on the bus, but now where was he? She walked to the very back of the bus, and there was Jonathan still sitting in his seat. His book bag was open and he was holding a jar of blue paint, which was also open, and there was blue paint all over his hands, all over the front of his shirt and his pants, and on the bus seat. Blue paint was at that very moment dripping onto the floor. Janet looked at him and said, "Jonathan."

Jonathan quickly replied, "I didn't do it," which seems to me to be the most common response of our society today. "I didn't do it."

I read about a stream that was polluted by chemicals that caused a massive fish kill. The toxins are traced directly to a pipe leading to a local chemical plant. How did the plant executives first respond? "We didn't do it."

Jonathan looked like he was going to be sick, but he said, "I didn't do it."

The next day, Jonathan stepped on the bus with a present for the driver. It was a drawing that he had made. Jonathan had attempted to draw a school bus with a stick figure of a little boy and a little stick figure of Janet Colby, the bus driver, whose big round head in the drawing contained a wide smile. A big balloon coming from the mouth of the little boy held these words, "I'm s-o-r-e."

Janet asked the young artist, "Jonathan, what does s-o-r-e spell?"

He said, "Sorry. I'm sorry."

And Mrs. Colby did smile and hugged Jonathan, who then also smiled.

When one knows that they are in need of forgiveness, they are not only sorry, but also sore; they are hurting. It hurts knowing something is very wrong and needs to be set right.

We must be responsible for our actions, and there are certain consequences that must be dealt with in terms of justice and preventing further pain. Forgiveness is not excusing unjust behavior. Nor is it necessarily forgetting what happened. I am talking about forgiving, accepting that person as a fellow, sacred traveler in our life together, a child of God. Sometimes it is very difficult. In that forgiveness, there is, I believe, a glimpse of resurrection already now -- a wholeness. It is the smile on the face of Jonathan and Mrs. Colby after the blue paint episode, when being sore turns to sorry and then turns to loving community.

Forgiveness frees the forgiver from being overwhelmed and devoured by the past. The forgiver is removed from the nightmare of revenge of prejudice or despair. "Father forgive them," even from the cross, is the Christ-model of the human living out the image of God. It is entering into God's point of view.
"Lord, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"

Whenever there is forgiveness, there is life. When you forgive, you are a part of the eternity of God's love. Amen.

This article was orginally reported by
Pastor Asafa Rajaofera

Rev. Asafa Rajaofero was born in Madagascar and serves as pastor of the United Church of Christ parishes in Greenwood and Owen, Wisconsin.