Joel Osteen, in one of his sermons, gave an illustration of how our flawed humanity makes us try to avenge ourselves, though we all desire to be forgiven when we falter. He talked about a woman who had died and gone to heaven. When she got to the golden gates, St. Peter asked her to spell a word so she could get in.
“What word?” She asked.
“Any word you choose”, Peter replied.
“LOVE,” the woman said, before going ahead to spell. “L.O.V.E.”
With that, St. Peter opened the gates and allowed her to get in. Needless to say, she was beside herself with joy. She’d made it to heaven. Moments later, he asked her to stand in for him for only a short while. Dutifully, she agreed.
While the woman was manning the golden gates, her ex approached her. “What happened?” She asked.
“I had a heart attack”. He answered. “So, I’m I in heaven already?”
Begrudgingly, she said, “Not yet. First you have to spell a word.” She went on to give him a very hard word to spell, just so he she could deny him the chance to get to heaven. If we had that chance to condemn people to eternal damnation, how many of our foes would we sentence to hades?
Biblically, that illustration resonates with the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: 21-35. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times?”
Jesus answered him, “No, not seven… but, seventy times seven. Because the kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts. He had just began to do so when one of them who owed him millions of dollars was brought in. The servant didn’t have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave with his wife and children, and all that he had in order to pay his debt.
The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay you everything!” The king felt sorry for him and he forgave him all his debt and let him go. The man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me’, he said.
His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back’. But he refused; instead he had him thrown in jail until he should pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ He said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you’. The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”
And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
In reality, most of the time we act like the unforgiving servant; we desire to be forgiven, but are so reluctant to forgive those who wrong us. It is that behaviour that our Lord condemns. When He taught his disciples how to say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), He still emphasised on that ‘thorny’ aspect of forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
Furthermore, in Matthew 6: 14-15 He says, “If you forgive others, the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.
In roughly four weeks, we’ll be celebrating Christmas and a week after that, we’ll be ushering in a new year. November is almost ending and that means this year is pretty much over. Many things have happened; we’ve been wronged by people, and we’ve also wronged others. As this year draws to a close, it is imperative that we start mending fences…
We need to make peace with those who have stepped on our toes, or with those whose toes we’ve stepped on. I doubt anyone would want any differences they might have had with others to spill over to next year. Personally, I don’t… Let’s forgive… Every time I’m watching news I see so many atrocious things happening across the globe.
One party strikes, and the other retaliates in an attempt to avenge itself… the effect of this is loss of innocent lives and the destruction of property. Earlier this year, I was watching the news where President Trump proposed the reintroduction of waterboarding –an outlawed torture tactic of interrogation- as a form of countering terrorism. He said that with respect to terrorism, he would fight fire with fire.
In my very humble opinion, fire can’t put out fire. And you know how that saying goes, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Unfortunately, in most cases, this is the approach we use to deal with those who offend us. We come out guns blazing so at the end of the day we leave things worse than they were.
From my experience, forgiving is very difficult, especially if there was searing pain occasioned by the transgression. However, Jesus is calling on us to forgive… it is not easy, but it is the right thing to do… and right now, what the world needs is tonnes and tonnes of forgiveness, as this will create room for peace, love and unity to thrive. What we need to remember is that love heals… and there can be no love, without forgiveness.