He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denari; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (Matthew 18:21-35)
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” (Mark 2:1-11)
Jesus, through his parables and his other teachings, challenges us to see forgiveness in different ways. Though God does not deal with us according to our sins, our sins have consequences. Forgiveness is available to us, but our attitude and the manner with which we relate to others can hinder our ability to experience forgiveness. Though God does not burden us with punishment when we sin, we can bring on ourselves the burdens of regret, fear, shame, isolation, or disgust as self-imposed forms of punishment. There are also times when our self perspective is so distorted that our emotional state results in harmful behavior, and the act of sin also becomes punishment because of the intensity of our self- incrimination. The spiritual work required to lift ourselves out of these conditions is difficult.
Forgiveness functions differently for the victim. As victims, we react strongly to what feels unjust, arbitrary, or mean. The things that are taken from us—the life of a loved one, our physical well-being, our property, our ability to work—can be devastating. The emotional intensity is so great that we seek to replace what cannot be restored through revenge and punishment. How do we live with emotional and physical pain in the aftermath of extreme tragedy? Like sinners, the victims also have difficult spiritual work required to lift themselves out of the new conditions in their lives.
God’s forgiveness is key to both the sinner and the victim of sin, even when the sinner and victim are the same person. As the sinner, we are transformed through the gift of forgiveness and learning to accept the undeserved grace that is freely given. There may be work to do—restitution to a victim, for example—but wholeness for us comes through the regenerating power of God’s love. The opportunity exists for us to be cleansed by accepting forgiveness and living according to a new understanding of our life purpose. Through sin we have chosen a path outside of faith. Our faith in virtue has to be restored within us. The road ahead is long and we may have to live for a long time before we are again worthy of trust. We humbly accept the consequences as part of the path now required of us.
The victim is transformed by giving forgiveness. Though we cannot return to the life that existed before, we find wholeness through the expression of love. We understand that severe punishment of the sinner cannot replace what is gone. The opportunity to move beyond the circumstances is before us. We also have to be willing to let go of all things that would hinder our ability to experience a new life. Most of all we cannot let those who hurt us continue to have power over us. The wounding can be turned into strength. Forgiving does not mean that we have to be reconciled to the person who wounded us, nor does it mean that we condone what has been done. We are empowered to move ahead, taking advantage of all the ways that we can create our own life. We can accept the gifts of help that appear, but we do not have expectations that get in the way of moving on.
Loving and merciful God, help us to discover the power to be found in forgiveness. Help us to learn, through the act of forgiving, all the things that we can accomplish through love. May we overcome the pain and suffering caused by all forms of sin. May we be strengthened by the love and truth we find in giving forgiveness and in being forgiven. Amen.