Just like the disciple Peter, we want there to be a limit on how many times we need to forgive someone. Peter hopes it is only seven times, after all, seven was the number of completion or perfection in the ancient world. But Jesus sort of annoys all of us by saying, “Nope, the quota on forgiveness isn’t seven times, more like seventy times seven.” What? Really? Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding! There are some really awful people out there that, in our humble opinion, shouldn’t ever be forgiven.
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Our gut reaction is to stridently disagree with Jesus. Why should we forgive someone if they aren’t sorry? Aren’t there some people who don’t deserve to be forgiven? What if they aren’t going to change? In fact, we don’t even really believe that we deserve to be forgiven for some of the things we’ve done. We believe our guilt should gnaw on us until our dying day as penance for our mistakes.
How can Jesus be so forgiving? For heaven’s sake, he even forgave the folks who killed him.
We’ve talked these last few weeks about how Jesus operated from a place of expanded consciousness and in many of his parables asks us to do the same. Jesus acted and spoke from a place of open-mindedness, freedom, non-judgment, love, and an ability to see the larger picture. He knew that he was one with the Divine and so were we, if we could only open our eyes to see it. He knew that we are more than our actions or choices, but that we had lost our way. It is a human desire to want revenge, to want to hurt one who has hurt you, to hold onto our anger. It is a divine act to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you and love your neighbor as yourself.
Here’s the deal as I see it today… forgiveness does not excuse the act, it does not absolve someone from responsibility for their actions, it does not ask that justice not be sought, it does not mean we continue to stay in harmful situations. Forgiveness simply sets us free from the anger, rage, and hatred that will eventually eat us up from the inside out. Forgiveness says “you no longer have power to hurt me or control my feelings.” I forgive you, I let you go. As long as we don’t forgive, there is an energetic tie between us and the person that binds us together as sure as handcuffs hold us bound. Setting that person free really sets us free to heal and be whole.
It can be a really hard thing to do. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “The traumas we have witnessed or experience live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.” Often we forgive to the best of our ability, and then forgive a little bit more, and a little bit more as time goes by. Hopefully we are eventually able to let all of it go. But even if we can’t, there is no question in my mind that God does what we cannot do.