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Space to live again

by davesandel on March 9th, 2021

Tuesday, March 9, 2021                     (today’s lectionary)

Space to live again

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

And why is that? Because God has forgiven me seventy times seven. “As far as the east is from the west …” But what, in fact, is forgiveness? Walter Wangerin in his marriage confessional, As For Me and My House (beginning on page 79), comes up with three “givings”:  giving up, giving notice, and giving gifts.

  1. Giving up your right to get even. “In this way she steps outside the systems of law and steps into the world of mercy, with its whole new economy of relationship.” This is difficult, because “to give up one’s rights is to sacrifice something of one’s self – something hard-fought-for in the world.”
  2. Giving notice of what has been done. It’s easier to keep silent, but then no one learns anything for the next time. Giving notice does not mean accusation, only information. This is a threefold sacrifice of one’s self: giving up vengeance, risking reopened wounds, seeking to heal the one who sought to hurt.
  3. Giving gifts. “Forgiveness is giving love when there is no reason to love and no guarantee that love will be returned. Forgiveness is repaying evil with kindness, even when you don’t feel like it. This is grace, and this is when newness and healing enter in.” And of course this is the greatest sacrifice of all.

However, we are not as open-armed in forgiving others as God is with us. “We are able to sin infinitely against one another, but we able to forgive only finitely. Left to ourselves alone, forgiveness will run out long before the sinning does.”

In fact, as Jesus’ points out in his parable, we are likely to accept God’s mercy and then turn sourly on our neighbor and insist on justice.

You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?

But we do not forgive others because we have no idea how to forgive ourselves. My inner dialogue is always the same, especially late at night: “I do the same thing over and over! I have no will power. I am a worthless sinner.” I follow my sin like a beat-down dog, unwilling to break away from my abusive master.

And why do I do that? Because I refuse to believe God cares more about me than I do about myself. His forgiveness reaches over mountains of my own self-pity and regret like a morning sunrise, but the light is so bright! I turn away and re-enter my darkness.

God pleads with us.

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, for I am gracious and merciful.

Many months ago, Margaret told me, “God’s mercies are new every morning. Regardless of my procrastinations and failures yesterday, God takes what he has available in me today. So get some sleep, and give God the glory. He makes space for me to live again.” Let the sun shine in.

(Daniel 3, Psalm 25, Joel 2, Matthew 18)


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