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Mirrors of Mercy

Summer sermons in our community have been focused on the parables and sayings of Jesus.  I’ve not been present for the whole series, but have enjoyed the challenge of preaching from these bracing, disorienting, reorienting stories over the last few weeks.

This week, my text is Matthew 18:21-35—the famous passage where Jesus instructs Peter on the new math of forgiveness.  It’s a familiar enough story: a servant is forgiven an outrageous sum of money by his master, and promptly responds by refusing to forgive his fellow man a paltry amount in comparison.  The lesson is obvious: we ought to forgive as we have been forgiven.  More disturbingly, perhaps, Jesus says that our refusal to forgive will block us from receiving the forgiveness of the Father.

I’ve been reading Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human this week, and deeply appreciated his closing chapter on forgiveness.  He suggests that forgiveness is based on the three-fold conviction that, 1) all of us have value and share a common humanity; 2) each of us can change—human redemption is possible; and 3) unity and peace are at the core of what all of us long for.  Without something like these three convictions at work, Vanier suggests, true forgiveness will be impossible for us.  And, to return to Jesus’ harsh words at the end of Matthew 18, perhaps the absence of these three convictions places us—temporarily, it is to be hoped—outside the forgiving embrace of our Father.

However we come to terms with the harsh words of Jesus that close Matthew 18, we cannot escape the truth that forgiveness matters deeply to God.  It’s also brutally hard, as anyone who has attempted to forgive knows well.  At the end of the day, though, I think it is a testament to the dignity of human beings that we can choose to transcend our instinctual needs for revenge, to be proven right, or to mask our own fears, insecurities, and prejudices, by choosing to forgive.  We can choose the harder path that leads to life, and in so doing show what we were made for, and by whom.

To forgive is divine, in a sense, as Vanier suggests near the end of this chapter, borrowing these words from Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz:

In the last resort, humans cannot define what constitutes their humanity. It transcends them. As we work for forgiveness, we are called to reflect that as human beings, each of us is created in the image of God, the most Merciful. This is our calling, our mission: to become mirrors of mercy.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ernie #

    I’d like to think that Christ is trying to teach us more about empathy than forgiveness. Forgiveness is so limiting, and polarizing
    For sure the last sentence is disturbing..coming from such a merciful God

    August 18, 2011
    • I think empathy is certainly a crucial part of genuine forgiveness—I would see it as being bound up with Vanier’s #1 above. Without some kind of empathy, I doubt forgiveness would even be possible.

      I’d be curious to hear more about your second sentence above, though. In what ways do you see forgiveness as being limiting and polarizing?

      August 19, 2011
  2. Naomi #

    I think when we refuse to forgive we do more damage to ourselves than we do to the person or people we are refusing to forgive. I wonder if the misery we put ourselves in when we don’t forgive isn’t part of what being “blocked to receive the forgiveness of the Father” means?

    August 19, 2011
    • Yes, I certainly think so… Often we need to forgive for our own sake as much as for the other party’s.

      August 19, 2011
  3. Ernie #

    Forgiveness tends to be about events while empathy can be/should be/is part of our journey. As a brother of mine would say, “empathy is measured in degrees” and if we choose to, we spend our lives cultivating the high station of empathy.
    I find it interesting that Jesus does not mention forgiveness in the Beatitudes. My take is that here Christ is teaching us about the highest level of empathy and caring.
    You say that “Often we need to forgive for our own sake as much as for the other party’s”
    Mostly we need to do such for ourselves..even if we think we are doing it for the other party.
    Eg: A prime time to buy roses for my wife, is when I am displeased with her…and it is not so much what it does for her but rather how it transforms me and my attitude.

    August 20, 2011
    • A life spent cultivating the “high station of empathy” would surely be a life well spent. Thanks, Ernie.

      August 21, 2011

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