Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do"

 

Proper 19A20

13 September 2020

Matt. 18.21-35

St. Lukes Episcopal Church Facebook Live

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – From Luke 23.34 

‘Well I’ve done it again!’ Don’t you just hate it when those words have to come out of our mouths? What made it even worse for me was that this was not the first time but the second time I had done it. And what was “it” you ask? Forgetting to look inside the oven before turning it on!

Both times I was so proud of myself, I was going to cook a special dish so that when my wife and daughter got home, they would have something delicious waiting for them.

Interestingly enough, on both occasions there was a special dessert that had been homemade by my wife and daughter, resting on a plastic cutting board inside the oven. On both occasions the dessert was fried to a crisp and the plastic cutting boards- melted. This second time I really did a good job where the molten plastic had totally coated the grills and ran down into the bottom tray of the oven. Right on the spot my IQ dropped 20 points and my emotional state spiraled downward. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to call on a professional, our own Rick Pozza, who dropped what he was doing, grabbed a couple of special tools and headed for my house.   The dessert and cutting board may have burned and melted, but my bacon was saved! When my family got home, I was going to need their forgiveness for my repeated blunders.

Our lives are filled with blunders both small and large, some are accidents, some we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the worst is when we intentionally do something to hurt someone or fail to do something that would have helped them, for each of these we will need forgiveness from someone.

Some of these hurts will happen to us for the same reasons, and forgiveness will be required of us.  God will forgive me if I ask, but with one vital clarification: and that is that my forgiveness is tied to my willingness to forgive others. This is clearly revealed to us in the daily prayer of the Church, the Lord’s Prayer: “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Our relationship to God is connected to our relationship with our neighbors, our forgiveness is connected to our forgiving our neighbor. But our math can be as bad as Peter’s, “Lord if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? Seven times a day? Jesus’ truth must have knocked the breath out of him: “No not seven, but 77.” Some bible translations even say – 70x7 = 490 times in one day!

Wow! I don’t have to tell you how hard a saying this is. All of us have things happen, that are just not fair, we tell ourselves: ‘If I forgive them then I’m letting them off the hook. Besides they need to feel the pain like I have – there needs to be some payback!’  Sometimes we believe that we are just the one to pay someone back by not forgiving them, and besides, it can give us a false sense of empowerment that we have something we can hold over someone’s head. But this is a guilty and costly ‘pleasure.’

Jesus told Peter and the other disciples a parable to teach them and us,  the high cost of unforgiveness by telling them a parable about a King whose slave owed $10,000, a huge sum back in the day and he begged the king to give him time to pay him back. The king had mercy on the slave and forgave him his debt. The forgiven slave runs into a fellow slave who owed him $100 and he demands payment. The other slave begs him to forgive his debt, but the slave has him thrown into a debtor’s prison. Other slaves saw this harsh treatment and reported it back to the king. This enrages the king who summons the unforgiving slave back to the palace and says: “You wicked slave! I showed mercy and forgave you all your debt, should you not have mercy on your fellow slave?” So, the judgment of the king was to throw him into prison and have him tortured until the entire debt was paid. Jesus is telling us a powerful truth – when we refuse to forgive someone and choose to hold on to our resentments it locks us into an emotional and spiritual prison where we start to live a ‘tortured existence.’

Malachy McCourt, author and brother of Frank McCourt, was greatly affected by living through ‘the Troubles’ in Ireland back in the last century. He was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “It made you feel like nothing and there was no place to go but down. It was assumed we’d be low-class the rest of our lives. But who can you blame? Governments and churches...It’s useless. Let those things live rent-free in your head and you’ll be a lunatic. Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”[1]

Unforgiveness traps us in a prison and poisons our souls, our spirits, and can even our physical health. There is a high cost when we take the low road.

The wonderful Good News of the gospel is that we do not have to remain locked in prison, there is the higher road of forgiveness that we can take that will bring us freedom and release! Jesus points the way from the cross: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus shows us the way out – by remembering the painful life story of the person who has harmed us.  If we could hear the offender’s life story we would understand, what they’ve done might still hurt but we see that they have come by their behavior honestly by what they may have endured. The truth of earthly life is that hurt and wounded people hurt and wound other people. 

With the coming of the pandemic has come potentially more time for reflection, we may have discovered that there are resentments toward those who have harmed us that we are still carrying.  I’d like to make a ‘sales pitch’ for forgiveness today.

Let it go! Let it go! Let them go! It is us my friends who are in prison not our offenders. You don’t have to feel it right now, in fact you probably won’t feel it today, but use whatever faith you have and take the one step you have been refusing to take. Do yourself one of the greatest favors you could do for yourself today - Let it go…Let them go!

 

No grievance is worth the price of a permanent grudge.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] McCourt, Malachy, The New York Times, 1998

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