Forgiveness is the obvious subject of the gospel reading, Matthew 18:21-35. This reading follows on from the gospel reading for last Sunday. It is as if Peter asked Jesus, “Do you really mean that I have to forgive someone who continues to do me wrong?” The answer from Jesus was this: “Yes, without ending.”
Forgiveness also appears in the reading from the Hebrew scriptures, Genesis 50:15-21. The story of Joseph occupies the last fifteen chapters of the book of Genesis, and it makes wonderful reading. The story of Joseph prefigures the life and work of Jesus the Christ. The brothers of Joseph had wanted to kill Joseph, and then they sold him into slavery instead. The forgiveness from Joseph towards his brothers affected the history of Israel in a profound way. There is a wonderful line from Joseph to his brothers in this reading, towards the end, which I have carried with me for many years: “You intended this for my harm; but God intended it for our good.”
In reflecting on this, I thought also of the story of King Saul and David. The declining King Saul resented the “rising star” of David, and tried to kill David on more than one occasion. As the books of Samuel and Kings describe it, David did not react, but rather, continued in an attitude of respect and forgiveness towards Saul as “God’s anointed”. Yet David was cautious… and so we may be both forgiving, and yet also cautious.
The challenge to us is this: If we live with resentment then (like Saul) our lives will not amount to much. If we nurture forgiveness and respect (with caution), then like David, our lives may write great poetry.
Remember that when we point at others with the condemning finger of resentment, let us take a look at our hand. There are always three fingers pointing back at us. The very things we resent in others are so often those things that we ourselves fail in even more than them.
Finally as the Lord’s Prayer has it, it is only as we forgive others that we ourselves can be forgiven by God.
That attitude of forgiveness and respect towards others, even towards those who intend harm to us, leads to us writing great poetry with our lives, so that God intends and brings great good to all.