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Mothers Day 2005
21 Then 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?"
22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
This is mother’s day and I know you came to church this morning expecting a Mother’s Day sermon. People gathered in thousands of churches across the land today will listen to sermons about how wonderful mom was or is and there is nothing wrong with that, but as many of you know I have not been having, in the last few months, a very happy relationship with my mother.
My mother suffers from Alzheimers. Prior to April 9, she was living alone, or almost alone, we had a lady come in a couple of times a week to check on her, but basically she did everything for herself. My father died almost 30 years ago. For most of those years, mother lived alone, but in the last year of so she developed Alzheimers. She began to forget when she had taken her medicine. She forgot sometimes to eat. She got lost driving the car on simple errands. She began to have hallucinations—pictures on the wall started to talk to her. She saw people riding bicycles on the ceiling. She saw flowers moving through the air. It was obvious to everyone she needed to make a change. It was obvious to everyone but her that she needed a change. She strenuously, doggedly, emphatically opposed any change. She was not going anywhere. She was not going to do anything different. She even opposed having the lady come in to check on her.
But on April 9, we moved her anyway, against her violent objections. She threatened to shoot my brother and herself, but we moved her to an assisted living center. Now, in some ways, she adapted very quickly and very well to her new circumstances. The staff tells me that she is one of the nicest ladies they have. She makes friends easily. She is still easily confused, she still tells stories that you wonder about, but by every indication she is doing pretty well at Sterling House.
But though she forgets a lot, she has not forgotten where she is and who put her there, and she has not forgiven one iota. Since my brother and his wife live in Columbia, mother sees my wife and I most often, and she takes out her resentment on us. When she sees me, she does not say “Hello,” or “Good to see you,” she says, “When am I going home? I don’t need to be here, and you are an awful person for putting me here.” Strangely enough, my mother’s brother, my uncle, tells me that when they put their mother, my grandmother, in the nursing home, she said the same things to him. He said it made him feel terrible.
I can sympathize with him. I have some of the same feelings. In the last few weeks, my mother has said some ugly things to me. So you can see then why any mother’s day sermon I preach has to have a large part of forgiveness.
Understanding is usually part of forgiveness. Not always. Jesus did not say that we understand and then we forgive. He said forgive, just forgive—whether you understand what the other person is saying and doing or not.
But it certainly makes it easier to forgive if we can come to some sort of understanding of why they did what they did. If we know, for example, that a mother was up all night with a sick child, when she goes to work the next day and is sort of cranky, we understand where she is coming from.
In my mother’s case, she has Alzheimers. One of the characteristics of that awful disease is that the victim sometimes lashes out at those closest and dearest to them. So the problems I am having with my mother are not with her, but with her disease. When she says something insulting, she does not have to ask forgiveness, because it is not her. In any case, the next day she will have probably forgotten what she said. Given that situation then, it is dumb for me to be offended with her, and get on my high horse and say she said that I was not a Christian and not a man of God—which she did say recently—she said that and so I am hurt and she has got to ask my forgiveness. Nonsense. She does not have to ask anything at all. She is a sick woman.
If anyone should be asking forgiveness, it is me. I confess that I have resented some of the things she has said. And, when, for the one hundredth time, she wants to argue with me about why she is in assisted living and why she cannot go home, I respond with arguments of my own, and when she grows angry I sometimes respond in kind. I caught myself doing that the other day, and I said to myself, “What are you doing, you idiot, she will not even remember this argument tomorrow.”
So my mother does not need forgiveness on Mother’s Day. I need forgiveness. I need forgiveness for not being more understanding of where she is at this stage of her life.
We might think of forgiveness in terms of a cross. The vertical arm of the cross is forgiveness coming down from God to us. The horizontal arm is our forgiveness of others and our being forgiven by others. Most of us rejoice to hear about the vertical forgiveness of God, and stumble over the horizontal forgiveness between human beings. I have met many Christians who seem to feel that Christianity consists of God forgiving my sins in Jesus Christ, and therefore I do not have to worry about this forgiveness thing. I do not have to forgive others or ask forgiveness.
But that is not what Jesus said. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, Lord “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Have you thought about what that means? We pray for forgiveness only insofar as we forgive. If we have not forgiven, we cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus was sure that we would not understand this, so after he gave the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6, he offered a little note of explanation in vs 14 and 15, saying, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” What Jesus is saying is that the cross of forgiveness is one cross. If we do not have the horizontal arm of the cross of forgiveness from others and to others, we do not have the vertical arm, forgiveness from God. It all goes together. If we are not forgiving people, we do not have forgiveness.
We can talk about being saved, and loving Jesus, but what Jesus is saying is you do not love me and you are not saved, if you don’t have this forgiveness thing worked out in your life.
In our text today, Peter is obviously working through what Jesus has said about forgiveness. And you can see his chain of thought here. He thinks, yes, Jesus is right, I ought to forgive. But what about if I forgive a person of doing me wrong, and they do it again. Should I forgive a second time. And what if she does it again, should I forgive the third time? We say three strikes and you are out. Most people would say that if you have forgiven a person three times, then that is surely it. Enough is enough. God will not require more of you than that. But Peter wishes to cover all the bases, so to speak, so he extends the possible number of times we are to forgive to seven. He says in v21, How often should I forgive? Then he offers a suggestion to Jesus. Peter always likes to offer suggestions. He says, should I forgive up to seven times. Surely no one in this world would expect you to forgive anyone over seven times. We are all in agreement with Peter on this, aren’t we?
But Jesus says, No, that is not enough. Not seven times, but the KJV says “seventy times seven.” Other modern translations say seventy-seven. It does not matter about the number because Jesus was not really talking numbers here. Peter was talking numbers. Peter wanted a specific number of times to forgive a person, and then after that, he could say, I do not need to forgive you anymore.
What Jesus meant by seventy times seven, was that there was no specified number of times to forgive. We forgive as often as we need to forgive—without limit.
Now Jesus knew that we would not understand this, or, more accurately, he knew that we would find this hard to accept, so he offered a parable to explain further his position. It is called the parable of the unmerciful servant and it is found in vs 23-35.
Jesus said, there was a king who conducted an audit of his books and he found one servant who owed him “ten thousand talents.” Now ten thousand talents is an enormous sum. We are talking many millions of dollars, perhaps a hundred million dollars.. We cannot imagine what this man has done to owe the king so much, but that does not matter, the point is that he owes the money and there is no possibility that he can pay it back. So the king confiscated all his possessions and ordered the man and his family to be sold into slavery.
But the man fell on his knees before the king and begged for mercy. The man said I will pay it back if you will just have patience. The king knows that the man cannot ever pay this debt, but the king has pity on him, and releases him and forgives the debt.
That is the first part of the parable, but now we come to the second part. That same man having just been forgiven a debt that he could not have paid in a thousand years went out of the king’s palace and met another man who owed him a “hundred denarii;” One denarius was a day’s pay for a working man. So this other man owed him a debt that amounted to a little over three months pay for an average working man. Now a hundred denarii is a pittance compared to ten thousand talents. It is like comparing a hundred dollars to a hundred million dollars. But this fellow who had been forgiven the ten thousand talent debt, seizes the man who owed a hundred denarii by the throat, and said, Pay me what you owe.
His debtor fell down before him and pleaded with him for patience and promised to pay, but he refused to listen and threw him into prison until he paid the debt.
Now other people witnessed this incident, and they were very upset by this fellow’s behavior, and so they reported to the king what had happened.
The king summoned him back and said, I forgive you all that debt. Why could you not forgive?
And Matthew 18:34, says, “In anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” Jesus concludes the parable in v35 saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
The parable is a response to Peter’s question. The king in the parable is God. God have forgiven us without limit. In Jesus Christ, God has forgiven every sin, and in most of us, he has forgiven the same sin over and over and over. And we are happy with that. We do not want God to set limits on forgiveness. It is a blessed relief to me to know that every sin I have ever committed, no matter how many times I have committed that sin, every sin is forgiven in Jesus Christ. Wow that is great. Take a deep breath. Let it out slow. I am forgiven. I love it. But having received God’s unlimited forgiveness, having been forgiven the debt of ten thousand talents, how can I limit forgiveness. How can I be worried about whether to forgive a person three times or seven times, when I have been forgiven ten thousand times? How can I be offended if someone did me wrong when God has forgiven all the wrongs I ever committed?
To get to the bottom line here, Christianity is about total forgiveness. If we want to participate in that kind of forgiveness, we have to be that kind of people. We have to be forgiving people.
On this mother’s day, there are many families with unresolved issues. I was talking this week was a person and I mentioned my problems with my mother, and this person mentioned their problems with their family, and I finally said, you know it sometimes seems like most of the difficulties we face are not with strangers but with the people who are closest to us. Psychologists talk about dysfunctional families. The fact is most families are dysfunctional sometimes. There are arguments, bitter disagreements, people get hurt wounded, and they go off and brood about their grievances. And wind up being separated from the people they love the most.
And they know it is not supposed to be that way. And so the wounds and hurts get covered up. You are not supposed to talk about your grievances against mom on mom’s day, or any day for that matter. If your family is having a problem then cover it up, put on a smile, pretend everything is ok and if you pretend long enough, it will be ok.
But it will not, these things have a way of festering and blowing up, and when they do blow up, they are much worse than they were in the beginning.
So what should we do? Practice forgiveness. This is the best gift for a family on mother’s day or father’s day or any day. In families, we are always banging against each other. We say the wrong things sometimes; we do the wrong thing sometimes. That is part of the friction of living in family. How do we get past all that? We forgive each other.
Our larger family is the family of God. How do we live in that family? We forgive each other. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 6/2/05