“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” This is from today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew. Today is also my brother Tom’s birthday (and my Aunt Mary Jane!)! Interesting that this line shows up today on his birthday. I’m sure I asked this question many times about him, and he has asked it about me (and I will include our other brother, Paul in this too!). Brothers do things to each other that hurt. And then we try to forgive. Peter is asking the question to Jesus to see if there is a limit to how often we must forgive. Jesus’ answer: Not seven times but seventy-seven times. In other words, a lot. And then Jesus tells the parable of the king who settles accounts with his servants, especially the one who owed him a lot. He forgave his debt. But then that servant goes out and tries to collect a debt from a fellow servant, who also has a large debt, and is unforgiving toward that fellow servant.
The problem I see with being unforgiving is that we never allow the other person or ourselves to grow. That person will always be associated with what they did. He cheated on his spouse. She lied and stole. They sold drugs. They never showed any love towards me. They remain fixed in their sin. And we remain fixed in our inability to forgive.
Unforgiveness is rooted in the past. We are always judging people and situations from the perspective of the past. We are always looking in the rearview mirror. Is that truly how we want to live? Is that truly who we want to be?
When we forgive others or even ourselves, we release them (and us) to become! We release them to the future. Forgiveness comes out of a present and future belief that things and relationships can be different. They can change. They can grow. We can become more of who we are called and created to be! How can we withhold the gift that has been freely given to us? If we don’t, we are like the servant. We stay stuck in the past and our minds and hearts never grow. They stagnate and may even recede.
What would it be like to experience forgiveness today in some place or relationship in our lives? It might be like adolescence, where growth is both painful and necessary. And, that growth is moving us to greater freedom too.
Having two brothers whom I’ve had to forgive and who have had to forgive me is something that I will never trade. It’s part of our past and part of our future. It’s a part of our relationship that has made us grow and become the brothers that we are today. Our relationship has put flesh to my faith. I’m very grateful for my parents giving me these two brothers (especially my brother Tom who turns 60 today!!!), and for giving us the faith that calls us to forgive, grow, and love one another into a future filled with great memories to come!