Jesus calls us to forgive without limit

Pastor David Armstrong-Reiner

September 12, 2020

Part of the Lord’s Prayer scares me.

It’s the part that slightly differs depending on what church you are in:

“Forgive us our trespasses (or debts or sins) as we forgive those who trespass (or sin) against us.”

No matter what way you pray it, the meaning is the same: We ask God to forgive us by the same measure with which we forgive others.

And that scares me, because I know the limits on my forgiveness. I know the grudges and resentments that I hold. If God holds me to that standard, I am in big trouble!

The disciples understood the difficulty. Peter even turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

Jesus does not give Peter the answer he was looking for: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times [or ‘seventy times seven’]” (Matthew 18:22)

There is no limit on forgiveness! There is no point where we can say, “OK, I am done. No need to forgive anymore.” Whether it is 77 times or 490, the call is to keep doing it over and over and over and over again.

Then, after Jesus responds to Peter, he emphasizes the point with a parable. A servant owes his master 10,000 talents, which is the equivalent of 60 million days of wages. When he begs for mercy from his master, the master forgives the man the whole amount.

But then that same man turns around and finds someone who owes him 100 denarii, which is equal to 100 days of wages. Notice the extreme difference between the two amounts owed. Instead of forgiving him that amount, he demands what is owed of him. When the master hears what happened, he calls in the servant: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33) The master then imprisons the servant for the full debt.

“Forgive us our debts AS we forgive our debtors.”

By the same measure we forgive others, we pray, forgive us.

And that scares me.

I struggle with this as much as you. It is hard to forgive those who have hurt me. It is hard to forgive those who have hurt my family. Yet, our standard is to look upon the cross and hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Then we remember that we are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

I hope that when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I am praying that God is shaping me into that image of Jesus. I hope that I am asking for God to forgive me even as I am asking God to help me forgive others. I hope that I am renewing my commitment to live as Jesus lived, to forgive as Jesus forgave.

I hope that I am praying for the eyes and heart of Jesus. I hope that I am praying that I may see my enemies as children of God, as ones made in the image of God even as I am in the image of God.

Because when I hold on to resentments and grudges, when I refuse to grant forgiveness to others, I block myself from the fullness of God’s grace and the radicalness of God’s forgiveness. As the writer Anne Lamott says, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

So, until I have forgiven 77 times – or 490 times – I will continue to pray this Lord’s Prayer, continue to pray that I may have the heart of Jesus, though I know that I am far from it:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

David Armstrong- Reiner is the pastor Epiphany Lutheran Church. He can be reached at pastor.david@conyerselc.org.