How to stop the hurt, hurting Matthew 18:21-35
This talk can be heard here or read below. The recording may be a bit weak towards the end but it is transcribed here if you cannot hear it.
21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 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. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Last week I said that Paul taught in Romans that we owed our neighbours a debt of love. If we, as a church, could be examples of acting and speaking in discharge of that debt, our neighbours would be less hurt, things in our community would change for the better.
This week, I want to talk about the other side of this issue, not so much encourage us not to hurt others but rather how those of us who have been hurt can respond to hurtful behaviour. In other words how can we stop the hurt, hurting?
The answer I think is given in our gospel passage today. The answer to how to stop the hurt hurting, is forgiveness.
But forgiveness is really, really difficult. It is so difficult that one writer describes it as ‘healing agony’. You may say: ‘but you don’t understand, I can never forgive them for what they have done’. Well let’s start by seeing what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not:
what they did.
It’s not even, necessarily, reconciliation;
But forgiveness is:
Refusing to punish;
Not telling others what they did (except to the necessary officials
if a crime has been committed);
Being merciful – not wanting to give them what they do deserve;
Being gracious – wanting to give them what they do not deserve;
Forgiveness occurs in the heart. It is the absence of bitterness.
It is something we may need to choose to do every day – it’s tough!
In today’s reading, Jesus tells us a parable about a servant who owes a large sum of money
to a king. The parable mentions 10,000 talents this is an absolutely huge amount of money:a terrifying debt: millions of pounds in today’s money. And it is owed
by this servant to his lord.
Just think what it would be like to be that servant. The sum is due. No bankruptcy law to bring us relief from debts owed to the king. Our family stands to be sold as slaves. Our children and wife to be separated and sold in the slave market. Perhaps to be sent on a perilous journey; to a foreign country; perhaps to be beaten; perhaps to be tortured; perhaps worse. We may never see them again
Think about how that would feel, if it was your children, your wife or husband: an agonising prospect.
So we plead with the king, probably prostrate on the floor grabbing his feet; all dignity gone; begging him to release us.
And the king forgives us the lot……
The relief: we are free! The excitement at home; the relief of wife and children, a lot of weeping with delight we can imagine. And the king expects the servant to be grateful and to act accordingly.
But then we go and beat up our fellow servant until he has paid some trifling debt.
This behaviour is so outrageous, as almost to be improbable.
The king’s reaction when he hears of this behaviour is: ‘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?
Jesus continues: ‘in his anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt’.
So that means forever, because he can never repay it.
Jesus continues: ‘So my heavenly father will also do to everyone of you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart’
Gentle Jesus meek and mild….
In the same place (the New Testament) that we discover that God is a God of love, we also find Jesus, God on earth telling us that we will suffer incredibly serious consequences from our own lack of forgiveness.
So, forgiveness is not an option
But how can we forgive?
It seems to me that there are two problems:
Firstly, we don’t want to forgive
Secondly, we don’t know how we can forgive
Jesus’ parable tells us why we should want to forgive:
It is because God has forgiven us so much.
It can be an insuperable difficulty to our own ability to forgive, if we don’t believe we have done anything which needs forgiving. If we review our life and think, ‘actually I have done pretty well, I have helped people where I can, I am not a murderer or a thief’, that is not how Jesus sees us. He sees the real us, the one we try to keep under wraps so that no-one else can see.
One of our parishioners told me the other day that the result of her starting to read the Bible was precisely the opposite of what she expected. She expected that she would find herself behaving better, more kindly, to others. But, actually, she thought that she was behaving worse now than she had been before she started!
But that is not the case, it’s just that when we actually start on the Christian journey, we begin to realise how sinful we are. Those of us who think they have no sin have not even put their boots on, let alone started on the Christian journey.
Those who think they have no sin, have no need of a saviour. Jesus is irrelevant to them,
they think they deserve to be praised by God on the basis of their own merits.
Its only when we realise what sinners we are that we can rely upon his grace alone.
So when this parishioner told me that she felt more sinful now than before she had begun reading the Bible, I said ‘good, that means you have really started the Christian journey. How very exciting!’
So, firstly, we need to recognise that we are sinners, that we need forgiveness. When we repent of those sins that we have committed, when we fall on the floor, begging for mercy from God, like the servant in the parable, then actually the likelihood of us wanting to beat up others for their sins against us is massively reduced.
So the first answer to stop the hurt hurting and to being able to forgive is realising that we need forgiveness too.
But even if we want to forgive, the second point is: how can we forgive?
What they did continues to race round our minds, keeping us up at night, giving us nightmare dreams, making us hate them.
How do we forgive?
Here is a glove. If I wave it around – you can see how weak it is, you can fold it and scrunch it up.
It is only when I put my hand in the glove that it can grip anything, that it can do anything.
We are like that glove, pushed around by circumstances and our emotions, we are incredibly weak.
But when we are filled, with the Holy Spirit filled by Jesus, we can do things we might think now are impossible.
Corrie and Betsie Ten Boon were the middle-aged single daughters of a watchmaker in Holland in the 1930s. They were Christians. In addition to helping at the shop, they ran Bible studies and Corrie ran a group for children with Downs syndrome.
When the Nazis invaded Holland, the Jews started to be shipped to concentration camps in Germany where they were to be murdered. Betsie and Corrie started to hide Jews in their house. At one stage they had over 20 living there; taking refuge behind a false wall in one of the bedrooms when visitors came.
They did this for years and years, smuggling the Jews out when they could.
Eventually they were caught by the Gestapo for having stolen ration cards. The Gestapo never found the Jews hiding in their house and all got away.
But the Ten Boons were taken to prison, where their father died, and then to Ravensbruck
concentration camp where they had an incredibly difficult time: great cruelty, starvation and perpetual beatings; fleas, lice and cold and constant fear of death.
All the time, the Ten Boon sisters ran a Bible study in hut 28 and worshipped God in what Betsie described as a ‘living hell’.
Corrie prayed while she was there “Lord I cannot let go of it. Take this hate that I have out of my life and put love in its place”.
Betsie said that when they finally left the camp they needed to be able to tell the world ‘no pit is so deep that He (that Jesus) is not deeper still’.
Betsie said: the world will believe us because we have been here’.
Betsie was badly beaten by one prison guard in the winter of 1944 and died of her injuries.
In December 1944 Corrie was separated from the rest of Hut 28 and led out to what she thought was to be her execution.
But she was released.
It turned out later, that this had been a ‘clerical error’…
After the war she travelled the world doing what her beloved sister Betsie had told her to do: ‘telling the world that there is no pit so deep that He (that Jesus) is not deeper still’
On one occasion she was in Germany giving this message of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. This extract comes from her book The Hiding Place
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him. The former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre in Ravensbruck…And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying beaming and bowing: ‘how grateful I am for your message, Fraulein’ he said ‘to think that, as you say, Jesus has washed my sins away’.
His hand was thrust out to shake mine.
And I who had preached so often to people…. the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.
Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?
‘Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him’.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.
I could not.
I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth and charity.
And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness’.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.
From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His.
When he tells us to love our enemies he gives along with the command, the love itself’
We cannot forgive anything which hurts the most by ourselves. We cannot stop the hurt hurting by ourselves.
But if we recognise what God has forgiven us then we will, at least, want to forgive and if we don’t know how to forgive, like Corrie Ten Boon, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness
to fill us like a glove, and we will be able to do something that now we may think is impossible.
If you find it difficult to forgive and want to have a conversation about it, please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01962 791010. Can I also suggest that you read RT Kendall’s book Total Forgiveness.https://www.amazon.co.uk/Total-Forgiveness-Achieving-Greatest-Challenge/dp/B00E32BFKU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1505648432&sr=8-2&keywords=total+forgiveness+rt+kendall