Forgiveness: Where Do I Draw the Line?

Introduction

Forgiveness is the one weapon Satan cannot defeat in the Church. And this week our lectionary text answers the question: “How often should I forgive somebody who offends me?” Or “When is enough enough?” I want to deal with this issue of how often we should forgive those who offend us. I want to help us come to grips with the type of behavior that Jesus expects of his disciples. Here again the parable of the unmerciful servant:

One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. 24As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. 25But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. 26The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” 27The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money. 28As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!” 29The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” 30But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed. 31When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. 32The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. 33Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” 34The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed.

Move 1
Some of us do some pretty strange things when we have been slighted or wronged. In a 1930s edition of the Chicago Herald Examiner there was an article, “Man Spites His Wife by Staying Blindfolded in Bed Seven Years,” which read:

The strange story of Harry Havens of Indiana, who went to bed—and stayed there—for seven years with a blindfold over his eyes because he was peeved at his wife, was revealed here today when he decided to get out of bed. Havens was the kind of husband who liked to help around the house—hang pictures, wipe the dishes, and such. His wife scolded him for the way he was performing one of these tasks, and he resented it. He is reported to have said: “All right. If that’s the way you feel, I’m going to bed. I’m going to stay there the rest of my life. And I don’t want to see you or anyone else again.” His last remark explains the blindfold. He got up, he explained, when the bed started to feel uncomfortable after seven years.

Still others like the official in our text try to get payback from the other person who wronged them. Max Lucado tells this story about such a person. He writes,
Each week Kevin Tunell is required to mail a dollar to a family he’d rather forget. They sued him for $1.5 million but settled for $936, to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expects the payment each Friday so Tunell won’t forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982.

That’s the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17. She was 18. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, six years more than his sentence required. But he keeps forgetting to send the dollar.
The weekly restitution is to last until the year 2000. Eighteen years. Tunell makes the check out to the victim, mails it to her family, and then the money is deposited in a scholarship fund.

The family has taken him to court four times for failure to comply. After the most recent appearance, Tunell spent thirty days in jail. He insists that he’s not defying the order but rather is haunted by the girl’s death and tormented by the reminders. He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year more than required. They refused. It’s not money they seek, but penance.
Quoting the mother, “We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We will go back to court every month if we have to.”
Few would question the anger of the family. Only the naïve would think it fair to leave the guilty unpunished. But I do have one concern. Is 936 payments enough? Not for Tunell to send, mind you, but for the family to demand? When they receive the final payment, will they be at peace? In August 2000, will the family be able to put the matter to rest? Is 18 years’ worth of restitution sufficient? Will 196 months’ worth of remorse be adequate?

How much is enough? Were you in the family and were Tunell your target, how many payments would you require? Better stated, how many payments do you require?

No one—I repeat, no one— makes it through life free of injury. Someone somewhere has hurt you. Like the 18-year-old, you’ve been a victim. She died because someone drank too much. Part of you has died because someone spoke too much, demanded too much, or neglected too much.

Move 2
In contrast, we need to know that each act of forgiveness has the potential to transform another person’s life. Forgiveness is so powerful because forgiveness affords a person three opportunities: to repent, to be transformed, and to help someone else.

When Shannon Ethridge was just 16 years old, an act of forgiveness and love changed her life forever. While driving to her high school one day, Ethridge ran over Marjorie Jarstfar, a woman who was riding her bicycle along a country road. Marjorie died as a result, and Ethridge, who was found completely at fault by authorities, was consumed by intense guilt. She contemplated suicide several times, but she never took her life because of the healing response of one man: Gary, Jarstfar’s husband.

Gary forgave the 16-year-old and asked the attorney to drop all charges against her, saving her from a probable guilty verdict. Instead, he simply asked that Ethridge continue on in the godly footsteps that his wife had taken. “You can’t let this ruin your life,” Gary told her more than 20 years ago. “God wants to strengthen you through this. In fact, I am passing Marjorie’s legacy on to you.”

Gary’s act of forgiveness showed Ethridge the amazing love of God. Today, Ethridge is the bestselling author of Every Girl’s Battle and Every Woman’s Battle, and her recent book, Completely His: Loving Jesus Without Limits, helps women overcome guilt-ridden, wounded lives.

Shannon repented for her actions, was totally transformed by Gary’s act of forgiveness, and is now helping others to overcome their guilt and shame about past indiscretions. That’s what Jesus wants from you. Jesus wants you to become the type of disciple that can offer God’s grace not God’s wrath to those who do you wrong. Lord, have mercy!

Move 3
I hear ya, Reverend, but you haven’t answered the question: How many times do I have to forgive someone who offends me? Even moreover, how often do I have to forgive if it’s the same person hurting me over and over again?

Here is what Jesus replied when asked this same question by Peter? Look at Matthew 18: 22, “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” Long story short, we are to forgive others until forgiving becomes second nature; until forgiveness becomes a lifestyle; until forgiveness is given so freely the devil cannot use an offense to keep you from fulfilling the will of God for your life. What Jesus is after is a lifestyle of forgiveness, grace, and mercy shown toward others, most especially your enemies.

Did he not say? 11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Did not Jesus say? 38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Did not Jesus say? 43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. ”

Move 4 (Conclusion)
There it is. “Grow up. You have to resist the urge to live in your old nature of sin and evil and determine, decide to walk intentionally in your new nature which reflects God and your Savior Jesus Christ. I urge you to do that; I urge you to offer forgiveness to those who you know have wronged you and forgive yourself for those times that you have offended others. The altar is open for you right now. Come and have a talk with Jesus about changing your heart to one of forgiveness and love.

To the one to whom the Holy Spirit is speaking, let me invite you to come this morning. God offers you forgiveness right now. Is there anyone standing in need of the love of God found in God’s forgiveness? God wants to give you this gift of grace called salvation right here and right now. Come and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. The doors of the church are open; the altar of God is open for you this morning. Come and ask God to come into your hearts this morning through the grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ! Will you come?

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