Whenever Charlie Brown starts the baseball season, he’s always sure it’s going to be better than the last. When he goes to kick his football, he always ends up believing that he’s going to do it that time. His kite is going to fly right and the little red haired girl is going to like him. If it’s one thing Charlie Brown has it’s faith. He is also big on forgiveness. Every season is another chance, whether it’s baseball, football, or kite flying and he always seems to give his crew another chance. He is the Charlie Browniest. And when we get to this part of Lent, I think…of all the Lent stuff we learn, this is the Lent-iest. It’s the hard part, the part when things go wrong, or we make mistakes.
In this excerpt from today’s Gospel, Peter asks how many times we must forgive. Peter, being a savvy guy, says Seven; knowing that in Jewish teaching from the Book of Amos three is the correct answer. Peter also knows that Jesus has higher standards and he will go beyond three and Peter will look pretty good if he's got a higher number. However, Jesus gives the number of completion from the Book of Genesis - 70x7!
This is mindblowing for Peter and I’m sure everyone else. It was then and it still is today. Human nature seeks revenge in anger and holding onto wrongs in our heads and hearts. Both are damaging in many ways. Just watch the news or check social media to see how well it’s working out.
Forgiveness is both extravagant and precious. It’s relational, reciprocal and reliant.
Relational- I can’t forgive if I’ve never been forgiven, because I won’t know how it works between people.
C.S. Lewis said “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” We can’t pay God back to make up for what we’ve done. Jesus already paid the price.
We have been forgiven for what we’ve done, so we know the feeling of freedom and love that comes with God’s forgiveness. We can, if we accept this forgiveness, join in the joy of life with God.
However, it is a choice. We can just say no to the forgiveness offered. We can hold onto the inexcusable. Without Jesus as a model, hate can become entrenched, killing the soul.
Reciprocal - Forgiveness goes both ways in our human lives. We need to ask forgiveness when necessary and we need to learn to give it. Many times pride and fear stop us from seeking forgiveness from others. While we’ve been taught that God always forgives us, the other humans in our lives may not. You can make a choice in life, but you are not free from the consequences of the choice. The person you have harmed is not free from the consequences of your choice and those consequences may follow both of you for the rest of your lives.
Imagine how hard forgiveness must be for the victims of violence of any type. Forgive and forget? Forget -not possible; the memory is always there, stored in their body as trauma. Yet, there are many stories of forgiveness because the injured has come to the realization that not forgiving is harming them. As Nelson Mandela said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
But you may say..But I can’t forgive, I try but I can’t. I pray but it doesn’t work. It keeps coming back and I get angry again. Consider the Japanese belief in the repair of broken items. Broken items are repaired with gold or other precious metals to reinforce the bonds by master craftsmen. The hard work of forgiveness takes precious time and help from The Master who made you. God is always waiting to help you in your time. Forgiveness is an act of love and that can’t be forced. Believe me I’ve tried. Be gentle with yourself, understanding that a memory isn’t a lack of forgiveness.
When forgiveness becomes possible, it may be like a whisper of the Spirit, full of acceptance and peace. Not a big TaDa!
Reliant - God’s mercy and forgiveness is totally reliable. No matter how many times we fail to love one another, or to forgive, we know Jesus went to the cross, died and rose from the dead to seal our fate. Who else but God would do that for you? How much more reliable is there?
As Lent continues, I hope I can have a faith more like Charlie Brown’s. I hope and pray that I can have the faith to ask for and accept forgiveness from others. Most importantly, to be open to those gifts of God, who has loved me in spite of all my choices and has begun to repair my brokenness. I pray it may be so for all of us.