On Sunday (March 30th), we walked through the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:21-35) and Christ’s invitation to the freedom of forgiveness. In case you missed it or want to dig in a little deeper, here is the outline, with notes and quotes…
We are punished by our sin way more than we are punished for our sin.
Dallas Willard: Jesus’ teachings are not random commands that we must obey “or else”, but they are “simple observations for how life actually works.” (from Spirit of the Disciplines)
God doesn’t say “Do not gossip, or I will punish you.”
God says “Don’t gossip, because it will wreck your relationships!”
God doesn’t say “Don’t be greedy or I will smite you.”
God says “Don’t be greedy or it will whither your heart and suck the joy out of your life.”
What if God is NOT a traffic cop waiting in the bushes to bust you if you drive 1 MPH over the speed limit?
Instead, what if God is more like a loving parent calling out to His 16 yr old son “Please don’t drive too fast on these icy roads. It’s too dangerous. Please come home safe!”
Which brings us back to the parable of the Unmerciful Servant:
Maybe God is NOT saying “If you don’t forgive others I will get angry and have you tortured”, but instead “The Kingdom of God is about grace, forgiveness, and second chances. Don’t let unforgiveness cut you off from this flow of Grace, or you will live a tortured life.”
“We don’t come to God by insisting on some ideal worldly order or so-called perfection, but in fact we come “to knowledge of salvation by the experience of forgiveness” (Luke 1:77)—forgiveness of reality itself, of others, of ourselves—for being so ordinary, imperfect, and often disappointing. Many also have to forgive God for not being what they wanted or expected. One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to St Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealized concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.
Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ “losing” the very redemption of the world—yet we run from it. I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds—much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe.
Much of the Christian religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. But God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go (of everything else).” (Father Richard Rohr)
Our prayer and practice for the night: “God, who do I need to forgive from my heart? What is the next right step I can take toward forgiveness?”
Four possible steps…
(1) For some of us, we need to begin by simply allowing ourselves to feel the pain of being wronged. Instead of running or avoiding and pretending, our first step toward forgiveness is to FEEL and ADMIT the pain in God’s presence. Maybe that’s as far as we can go right now.
(2) For some of us, this pain is quite clear and always present, but it’s been pushing us to fight and engage in some really unhelpful ways. And so we need to decide to stop fighting. Lay down our arms. Maybe it’s a decision to stop saying such terrible things about that person. Or maybe to stop saying hurtful things to that person. Maybe tonight all we can do is say “God, I’m done trying to get them back. I lay down my right to revenge. God, I will not fight them any longer.”
(3) For some of us, God is pulling us deeper. Not only will we stopping fighting them, but we’re ready to practice Jesus teaching and “pray for your enemy. Bless the one who curses you.” And so we want to begin actively praying for the person we need to forgive. Not that they would suffer or even change, but simply that God would bless them. And their family. And their lives. This is a very, very hard thing to do, but incredibly powerful.
(4) And finally, for some of us, the next step is to make them breakfast (Matt 21). To find a concrete, no strings-attached way to bless and serve them. This will look very different in every situation, but God will lead us to do the right thing if we ask Him.
A couple more quotes and thoughts:
• You have already seen our “Kingdom Practice” for the week (HERE at this blog), and our big encouragement is DON’T TRY TO DO THIS ALONE! First, remember that God has invited you into this process and promises to be faithful to complete the work God has begun. Second, it is absolutely critical to find a friend or tribe to walk with. Brothers and sisters who love us are one of God’s primary ways to heal and guide us. Please don’t try to do this journey alone.
• Forgiveness is a life-long journey. All God is inviting you to do is take the next right step.
• The song that accompanied our silent prayer time was “O Magnum Mysterium” by the Nordic Chamber Choir.
• One more helpful quote from Father Richard Rohr…
“Forgiveness is always the refusing of power. When someone has hurt you, you are in charge for a while. When you refuse to forgive, you are holding onto a power you have over another person. Somehow it feels good, to put them down as an inferior person or to place yourself above them as a righteously aggrieved person. Forgiveness is impossible if power or control is your way of life. Maybe that is why Jesus almost uses forgiveness as the litmus test of whether you are a true disciple.”