Tag Archives: forgiveness

Having only Bad Choices – God’s Third Option

Matthew 18:21-35
21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “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.
(Read the whole passage)

I wonder what was going through the minds of the Israelites standing on the banks of the Red Sea… an army chasing them down from behind and turbulent waters ahead of them. No good options, only bad ones. 

Here we are, into month 7 of this global pandemic, and it feels strange to be preaching again about a virus… and yet this illness that spreads so easily and makes just enough folks really sick has changed life and the way we live it. It is in the news every day, it has become an important factor in nearly every decision we make from how to buy groceries, to visiting with family, to going to work or school or even coming to church. 

We have been walking along side the stories of God’s people during this entire pandemic in a new way, a way different from before when we likely felt degrees of separation from the struggle. Again and again we have found the world and story that we have been living out in real time is one that is already told and experienced in the bible. From Abraham and Sarah and their descendants making their way in the wilderness, to the disciples cluelessly following Jesus, to Moses and the Israelites preparing to escape Egypt. 

We are firmly in the back half of this long season of green. 15 Sundays into Ordinary Time, and there are only ten or so left before we flip the calendar on a new church year in Advent. Yet, even now, those ten weeks seem like they are still a lifetime away, the predictability of our lives has been taken from us as we wait each day to hear whether or not this pandemic thing is getting better or worse. 

Along side the the story of the Israelites feeling Egypt’s armies and crossing through the parted waters of the Red Sea, Peter asks Jesus how many times ought he to forgive. Peter’s guess was a number he thought to be quite generous. 7 times. But Jesus responds by multiplying that number 70 times 7. Which is not to say 490 times, but forgiveness ought to be offered more times than Peter imagines possible. 

There is something about the Israelites standing on the brink of destruction or disaster that goes with Peter’s question about forgiveness. 

As the people of Israel, the community of God’s people stood there on the banks of the seashore, the feeling of helplessness and defeat must have been overwhelming. There was no good choice to make, only bad options. Options that both include death for many. Death at the hands of Egyptians soldiers, or death in the waters.

In the same way as Peter considers forgiveness, he too stands between hard choices. Forgiveness really exists at the edge of a difficult choice, to let go of harms and wrongs done. Does forgiveness condone bad behaviour? Does it simply allow for more harm and abuse? Or does not forgiving hold us in bitterness and judgment, in resentment and anger? There is no easy answer or obvious choice. 

The people of Israel and Peter are standing at the precipice of bad options and choices all around. Not dissimilar to where we are stand theses days. We too have been struggling with how to move forward in life when there are are only bad and unsatisfactory options all around us. Do we stay home or risk seeing family and friends for the sake of mental health and wellbeing. Do we go back to workplaces and jobs risking exposure but needing to support businesses and the economy? Do we send children to school with untold numbers of contacts or do we risk their growth, learning and development. 

And of course, do we begin gathering in-person for ministry and worship as churches once again? Is the community that we share in this place worth the risk of transmission? Do the restrictions placed on how we worship (masks, no singing, no visiting, socially distant and brief) justify the effort to be together inside of a beloved church building and church home?

Today, the Lord God of Israel and Jesus the Christ offer third options. A parting of the waters, a new and unexpected pathway to salvation. An understanding of forgiveness that expands far beyond what seems generous and reasonable at first. 

Yet, as Moses raises his staff and hands over the sea and the waters part… I am not so sure that stepping into the newly revealed sea bed would have felt any safer. I don’t think I would have been the first to follow the path between the two walls of water, not knowing if or when they might come crashing down. Salvation and rescue doesn’t always feel low-risk and secure. Being safe isn’t always comfortable.

Yet, as Jesus speaks of forgiveness beyond what Peter can imagine, forgiveness that is not just generous but abundant and lavish. Forgiveness that extends beyond close friends and family, that is given for the whole community, for all of creation… I am not sure I would want to walk away from the ability to hold others accountable, to hold them in my judgment… who knows how that might be taken advantage of. Letting go my judgment and resentment doesn’t feel natural or straight forward. Setting feelings and gut instincts and coping mechanisms aside isn’t easy. 

Yet, the Lord God of Israel brings the people through the waters to safety to other side and on their way to the promised land. 

Yet. Christ goes to the cross and even while hanging there in the final judgment of humanity, prays for mercy and forgiveness for all of us. 

For you see, God reveals something beyond our impossible choices, beyond the risk of armies and raging waters. God pours out forgiveness, release from judgement and condemnation that cannot fathom. 

God invokes options and futures that we cannot conceive of. Christ shows us the way to abundant new life beyond ourselves, and beyond what feels safe. 

And for us, for the church as we face a world full of bad options, full of risks and stress and anxiety about what the right thing to do is, God is working among us already, parting waters that will send us on our way to the promised land – there just might be 40 years in the wilderness first. 

And Christ is exhorting us to forgiveness knowing that resurrection and new life have begun already in our world, even if the cross of Good Friday comes first. 

God in Christ promises that even through this pandemic, even through the separation of communities, friends and family, even through the limitations on the way we worship and the way we can gather… that the transformation and salvation of God’s people has already begun… that there will be parted waters ahead for us, that there’s abundant forgiveness waiting for us… that a new way of living and being in the world for this pandemic church of 2020 is on its way. 

We might feel stuck to between bad choices theses day, but God is with us, God is beside us, God is among us… carrying us to the new and unexpected thing that we cannot imagine yet. 

Because God has already brought God’s people, and will bring us, through the struggle and to the other side, 

to the promised land 

of mercy and new life. 

How many times can we forgive? None.

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Read the whole passage)

We have been hearing the stories of Jesus’ ministry for a while now, we started back in spring and through the whole summer. For the past few weeks, Jesus has been challenging the disciples more than usual. He has put before them the question of who they think he is. Jesus has rebuked Peter for not getting it when Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to his death. And last week, Jesus challenged his disciples and us with the reality of conflict resolution, of how it is that God truly sees us.

But today, it is Peter who puts the hard question to Jesus. “How often should I forgive?” he asks “Seven times?”

And while usually when we hear this story we move on to Jesus’ response, Peter’s question deserves some time to consider… We need to slow down and truly hear what Peter is getting at.

Yet, before even considering how much we ought to forgive, maybe it is worth reflecting on our own experience with forgiveness.

Think back to the last time you had to forgive someone in your life. And not just a small acts of forgiveness like for your spouse getting regular ground beef instead of lean ground beef at the grocery store, or for your neighbour’s leaf blower sending all their leaves onto your lawn, or for that grandchild who spilled juice on the couch.

Rather, try and think of that time you forgave someone for something big. Something that was hurtful and life impacting. Something that was more than an accident or forgetful moment.

It is probably likely that most of us haven’t had to give that kind of forgiveness recently, maybe even at all in our lives. Or if we have, it has been only a few times.

And it is also likely that IF we have forgiven someone for something big that we haven’t forgiven fully. The sin committed against us probably still stings, that a part of us still holds it against the sinner, that maybe we bring up the offense from time to time to make the one we forgave still feel guilty.

Forgiveness is a complicated process. And it can be just as much about letting others off the hook of our judgment, as letting go of the hooks ourselves… freeing ourselves from having to hold others in judgement and condemnation. It is a lot of work to hold a grudge, to hold onto our hurt.

And so is Peter asking about this kind of hard work forgiveness? Probably not.

In fact, Peter doesn’t seem to be asking about forgiveness at all. More something like chances. How many chances do I have to give someone before I can hold their feet to the fire? Seven?

Peter wants a type of forgiveness he can control, a measuring stick that he can wield against even his brothers and sisters in Christ, against the people closest to him.

He is talking about the kind of forgiveness as chance giving that we use daily, the free passes for little offences that we give out depending on our mood and how much coffee we were able to drink in the morning.

So Jesus answers Peter’s question. Jesus tells us how much we are to forgive. 70 times 7 or 490 times. But it is NOT the number that is important. It is how Jesus gets there. Jesus multiplies Peter first guess. In a way Jesus is saying, however much you think is a generous amount of forgiveness, multiply that and then multiply it again… by a lot.

And yet, just to make sure that Peter gets the point and just to make sure that we get the point, Jesus tells a parable. It is a simple parable. A King forgives a slave an enormous amount. The slave then turns around and does not forgive a fellow slave a much smaller amount.

In our modern world, where we deal with big numbers often…  so 10,000 and 100 don’t seem like much. But to really understand the depth of Jesus’ point we need to do some math.

10,000 talents and 100 Denarii are two vastly different amounts. A Denarii was what a day labourer would ear for one day’s work. Whereas a talent was worth 15 years of wages.

10,000 talents was worth about 54 million denarii.

The king forgave a debt that would have taken the slave 3000 lifetimes to work off.

The forgiven slave had a fellow slave thrown in prison for 3 months worth of wages.

The difference between the two is absurd.

But of course, Jesus is making point in using ridiculous numbers.

Forgiveness is NOT about an amount. It is NOT just a measuring stick for how judgemental we can be.

True forgiveness is that hard and complicated process that we might never achieve ourselves in our lifetime.

How often should we forgive? Jesus answer is, “Over and over and over and over and over.”

And even then, Jesus says, even after you have practiced forgiveness for a lifetime… remember that forgiveness is not something that you can do on your own.

What Peter doesn’t realize and what we regularly forget is that true forgiveness, the kind of mercy and forgiveness that Jesus has come to show the world is God’s alone to give.

That when God releases us from God’s judgment we are transformed. That from the moment we are born into this world are we are “on the hook” for our selfishness and self-centredness, we are on the hook for our sin. We are on the hook to die. And we hang from the hook, being held in judgment. Judgment that says we are not enough. We are not good enough, not righteous enough, not holy enough, not perfect enough. We are failures and frauds. We are sinners. And because of that, we will die.

But there, as we are dying on the hook for our sins, we are held in judgment that we can neither let go of ourselves or escape…God comes. God comes to us in the waters of baptism. And God raises us up, God releases us, God frees us. God says that we are no longer held in judgement, we are no longer destined to die. That in baptism we are now held and alive in Christ.

Christ who forgives. Jesus who releases us from judgment. The Son of God who brings God’s mercy near and close.

And then, over and over again, God reminds us that we are forgiven.

As we gather for worship we practice it.

We confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness again.

We hear the word proclaimed, and God shows us grace again.

We sing and pray and confess our faith and share the peace, and God tells us the story of God’s love for us again.

We welcome the newly baptized into our community of faith, and God welcomes us all in the Body of Christ again.

We come and receive bread and wine, and God gives us forgiveness to eat and drink and to live our very bodies again.

Forgiveness as hard as we know it to be, as complicated as we know that it is to give, as difficult as it is to receive…. Forgiveness is not what Peter describes today. And we know that. We know that forgiveness is not the power to hold our brothers and sisters in judgement.

But we need Jesus tell us what forgiveness truly is. And Jesus reminds us tell us again that forgiveness is the work of God in our world and in our lives. It is not something that we can do one our own, but rather forgiveness is what God is doing to us and for us. God is letting go of the judgment we are held by, God is releasing us from being on the hook for sin and death. God is forgiving us completely and wholly… over and over and over and over again.

The Stanford Rape Victim, Jesus and Forgiveness

Luke 7:36-8:3

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Read the whole passage)

In January of 2015, a young woman was sexually assaulted on Stanford University’s campus following a campus party. A young man named Brock turner was caught in the act by two  passersby and later convicted in the assault. Last week, the victim impact statement written by the anonymous woman was released to the public. Over the past number of days, the 7000 word letter has been trending online, and making headlines on TV and Radio news and in newspapers. Celebrities and pundits have commented on the case. US Vice-President Joe Biden even wrote an open letter to the young woman at the heart of this case.

Brock Tuner was sentenced to a shockingly lenient 6 months, of a possible 14 years because the Judge believed any longer would have had a “negative impact” on the young man. Turner’s swimming career and affluent background with no prior convictions were cited as reasons for the lenient sentence.

You may have read the statement from the young woman who was Brock Turner’s victim. You may have heard the commentary or read about the story. You may have discussed it with family and friends, or maybe you just heard about it for the first time now. But almost certainly, you would not have expected to read this story in church today…

This week, Jesus meets Brock Turner and the anonymous Stanford Rape victim. They go by different names, Simon the Pharisee and the woman who was a sinner, but make no mistake, this morning our gospel lesson is telling the same story that the world has been telling all week.

Jesus is invited by Simon the Pharisee for dinner. Simon is a well-to-do Pharisee, a religious authority, a moral authority, one who occupies position and privilege in his world. Someone that proper people would have considered righteous, a stand-up guy, some one who should be given the benefit of the doubt. Someone who gets a name in the story.

Just as Jesus, Simon and the other guests are about to sit down for dinner, a woman enters the scene. The woman only descriptor the woman gets is “sinner.” She doesn’t get a name, or position, she is only known for her “sins.”

And as if to emphasize the point, when Simon objects to this sinful woman’s presence, Jesus tells a story about two debtors, and how the one who is forgiven more would love more. It almost seems like Jesus is saying this poor sinful woman is to be pitied.

Can you see Brock Turner in Simon? The privileged man with power who doesn’t even see a person in the woman.

Can you see the anonymous woman who is a victim of her world in the woman who washes Jesus’ feet? The woman who is assumed to be a sinner first and foremost.

In case it isn’t clear, the assumptions built into this story are the same as the ones so many have made about the Stanford Rape case. 

Simon is assumed to be righteous, because we tend to think that people of his kind, powerful, respected, well-to-do people, are righteous. Brock Turner is assumed to be a good kid because he is a college athlete, he comes from an affluent family, he is a white guy going to a prestigious university. If he is accused of doing something wrong, it must not be that bad.

But more importantly, the woman who washes Jesus feet is assumed to be a sinner, but not just any kind of sinner. While the text doesn’t actually say, we assume that this is a prostitute. A promiscuous woman. She is assumed to be a prostitute because she is a woman, because there is no husband with her, because she is doing something intimate with Jesus’ feet. If she is a sinner, it must be the worst kind of sinner can think of.

And young woman who was assaulted? Every detail of her sins were laid out in court. Her clothing choices, how much she drank, what kind of relationship she had with her boyfriend, whether she actually wanted what Brock Turner did to her. Because she was sexually assaulted, we feel the need to question the ‘assaulted’ part.

Our assumptions about Simon and this woman who washes Jesus’ feet, about Brock Turner and the young woman he assaulted… our assumptions show our bias. How we can easily assume someone is righteous without any real evidence. How we can easily assume someone is a sinner just because of their gender or social standing.

And in case we still don’t see our assumptions about who is righteous and who isn’t, who should be given the benefit of the doubt and who shouldn’t, Jesus makes sure we get it.

Lest Simon think that he is the one with few sins to be forgiven, Jesus reminds Simon that just in that moment Simon has failed to show hospitality according to the law. He has failed to wash the feet of his guest, he has failed to offer a kiss of peace, he has failed anoint his guest with oil. The “sinful” woman has done all these things. The sinner has kept the law.

And then Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your sins are forgiven”

But not forgiveness in the sense that her wrongdoing have been forgiven. Because Jesus knows that this woman is victim too. A victim of her society that sees women as property to be owned and casually discarded if perceived to be broken. This woman is a victim of a world where an unowned woman’s life choices included begging or prostitution.

Forgiveness in the sense that the sins that have been heaped on her do not define her. Forgiveness in the sense that the judgment and scorn of the well-to-do and powerful don’t get to determine her value.Forgiveness in the sense that her righteousness isn’t decided by the standards of her unjust world.

Forgiveness in the sense of freedom and release. 

A seminary professor of mine once said to us,

“The gospel is always contextual. You wouldn’t tell a rape victim that she is forgiven of her sins”

But after reading statement of the young woman whom Brock Turner was convicted of assaulting, after reading about the shame, self-doubt, the regret and suffering, after reading about the trauma and re-traumatization, after reading of helplessness and injustice she endured…

Perhaps forgiveness is exactly what is needed.

Release and freedom from the sins that have been dumped on her. Release from the shame and judgment of the powerful. Forgiveness of any need on her part to demonstrate her victimization or righteousness or need for justice.

Forgiveness and freedom.

Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who has been victim and accused sinner before us.

Forgiveness and freedom found in The One who does not live by assumptions about our goodness, worthiness or sinfulness.

Forgiveness and freedom shown by The One who determines our righteousness solely in love.

Forgiveness and freedom found in Christ. 

The reality is that our world is full of Simons and Brock Turners, those whose power and privilege protect them from seeing their un-righteousness. Our world is full of anonymous, unnamed people looking for freedman and release from the shame, judgment and sin of the world. The reality is that we are both Simon and the woman who washed Jesus feet, we are both Brock Turner and the young woman who was his assault victim.

We are people who assume our righteousness, our goodness, or worth is based in our power, achievements, wealth and status. We are people who assume our sinfulness is based on our gender, race, language, religion, orientation.

But most importantly, we are people for whom God chooses to discard all that. We are people loved and freed by Jesus. We are people that God chooses to forgive.

God chooses to forgive us and free us from our sin, to free us from all the ways the we try to define ourselves, to free us from the burden of trying to be righteous on our own, free from the shame and judgement heaped on us by the world.

God chooses to forgive and free us. Period.