February 23, 2004

Forgiveness Who Needs It?
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, 
whose sins are covered" (Tehillim / Psalms 32:1).

I have been significantly challenged lately regarding 
the subject of forgiveness. I don't know about you, 
but I have experienced a fair bit of hurt in my life 
and have not always found it easy to forgive. My 
struggle is not just an emotional thing (I don't 
think); I believe it arises out of my having a high 
value of justice and truth.

From time to time I get the impression from some 
people that forgiveness should always be easy to do. 
They almost take it for granted. Maybe I react because 
I think that they are treating it as some sort of 
mechanical thing, which cheapens it in my mind.

But to be honest, I know that I am hesitant to forgive 
largely because the wrong done to me is just too great 
and hurts too much for me to let it go.

Forgiveness plays a central part in the Messiah's 
teaching. In fact, Yeshua said that our being forgiven 
by God was dependant on our forgiving others (see 
Matthew 6:14,15). That's pretty serious! But while the 
seriousness of this statement does motivate me to take 
the issue to heart, it hasn't helped me to truly deal 
with it.

There is a story Yeshua told that was clearly designed 
to illustrate to his followers the importance of 
forgiveness (see Matthew 18:21-35). Up until recently 
it also didn't help me too much. It is the story of a 
man who had a servant who owed him the modern 
equivalent of millions of dollars. Since the servant 
in no way could pay back what he owed, the master 
ordered that he be imprisoned. When the servant begged 
for mercy, the master forgave him his debt and let him 
go free.

Right after that, the servant met one of his fellow 
servants, who himself owed the first servant some 
money. The amount in comparison to what the master 
forgave was small, but that didn't prevent the servant 
from demanding immediate payment even though his 
fellow servant begged for mercy just as he had done.

When the master heard what the first servant had done, 
he threw him into prison after all. From this it seems 
we are supposed to learn to forgive others.

Yet there is something wrong in how this story is 
usually understood. The way I just told it is the way 
many of us have understood it: since what others owe 
us are nothing compared to what we owe God, we should 
forgive. But that is not what Yeshua was saying.

The amount the second servant owed the first servant 
was one hundred denarii. In the currency of the day, a 
denarius represented a day's wage. One hundred denarii 
was equal to one hundred days' wages. For most of us 
that's a lot of money. In fact a hundred days' wages 
meant far more to the servant than the millions of 
dollars that he owed his master.

While objectively speaking a hundred days' wages is 
very small in comparison to millions of dollars, it 
was a great deal of money to the servant. He was not 
owed a small amount. It was significant. It is 
possible that he may have needed that money 
desperately, especially after squandering his master's 
millions.

So Yeshua is not telling us to regard the wrongs and 
hurts we have endured from others as nothing. Some 
people have gone through horrific things in life. It's 
not easy to forgive. But it is not right to cheapen 
people's hurts by making them think that those things 
are insignificant.

Certainly God does not cheapen the wrongs we have 
endured. He paid dearly that we might know his 
forgiveness. As we read in the prophet Isaiah,

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has 
turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him 
the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

Maybe we don't realize how much forgiveness we need 
from God. Maybe you have never thought about it. Maybe 
you don't realize that you have been running from God 
your whole life. You were made to live as God's child 
and to know the reality of his presence and love, but 
instead you have spent your whole life trying to keep 
him out, substituting other things for what only he 
can be to you.

Maybe you do know God, but have never taken the time 
to note how much he has actually forgiven you. If we 
began to take stock of what we truly owed God, we 
would see that we are just like that servant who owed 
an amount far beyond his ability to pay.

According to Yeshua, the only reasonable response to 
our being forgiven so much is to forgive others for 
their wrongs. No matter how much we have been wronged 
by others, they will never match the amount of wrong 
we have done to God.

No wonder our lack of forgiveness prevents us from 
benefiting from God's forgiveness. When we do not 
forgive others, we are demonstrating that we are not 
really in touch with God's forgiveness ourselves.