Over the last couple of weeks John and I have been preaching through the Old Testament story of Exodus, the powerful saga of how, out of unbreakable love, God freed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, a story which dominates Jewish theology and practice, and resonates with our Christian story, of the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus which brings about our redemption as children of God.
Sitting alongside these readings in the lectionary are New Testament passages from Matthew. Last Sunday’s was Matthew 18:15-20; the conflict resolution policy set down for the early church, and this Sunday’s is Matthew 18:21-35, where Jesus teaches that the church is to be marked by unlimited forgiveness, “not seven times…but seventy-seven times” is how often we are called to forgive.
It is challenging teaching, and it seems to sit at odds with the story of the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.
I read a wonderful essay this week, however, by Debie Thomas from Journey with Jesus which brings these two apparently conflicting scriptures together. Thomas writes:
Before we explore what forgiveness is, we need to stress what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not denial. Forgiveness isn’t pretending that an offense doesn’t matter, or that a wound doesn’t hurt, or that Christianity requires us to forget past harms and “let bygones be bygones.” …. On the contrary, the starting line of forgiveness is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Of harm. Of real and profound violation. Whenever we talk about the need for forgiveness, we must begin by recognizing and naming the extent of the brokenness. Why? Because we were created for good….
Forgiveness is not synonymous with healing or reconciliation. Healing has its own timetable, and sometimes reconciliation isn’t possible. Sometimes our lives depend on us severing ties with our offenders, even after we’ve forgiven them.
In this sense, forgiveness is not an end; it’s a beginning. An orientation. A leaning into the future. Where it will lead is not pre-ordained. ….when, for example, victims of racial hatred forgive their racist oppressors, they’re not ending anything; they’re preparing their hearts to begin. To resist. To approach the battlefield one more wearisome time. Forgiveness enables the oppressed not only to survive, but to lay down the cumbersome weight of hatred and bitterness and gear up for the fight. Forgiveness is the beginning of the hard work of building God’s kingdom — not the end.
And she concludes with this:
I wonder if we’re often squeamish about forgiveness because we misunderstand the nature of unconditional love. Foregrounding God’s all-embracing love doesn’t for one second require us to relativize evil. If it did, God’s love would be cruel and weak, not compassionate, and strong. But where we humans make love and judgment mutually exclusive — where we cry out for revenge, retribution, and punishment — God holds out for restorative justice. A kind of justice we can barely imagine. A kind of justice that has the power to heal both the oppressed and the oppressor.
Let us continue to live into our identity as children of God, foregrounding God’s unbreakable love and pursuing this almost unimaginable justice. As our church goal says, “Led by the Spirit, we will share God’s love and justice in our words and actions.”
Grace and peace,
PS And isn’t it exciting that this Sunday there is not just one church service at Canberra Baptist, but three!
Sunday Worship – At 10am there will be our usual service in the church face to face (for people with surnames from A to H) and on Zoom https://zoom.us/j/410991017.
Family Church – Also at 10am, but in the hall, will be our four-weekly Family Church led by our youth. All families with pre-school, primary or secondary children are welcome.
Sunday at 6 – Then from 6-7pm is Sunday at 6 which this week is a Topic of Discussion: From your own learning and reading or the recent Fight for Planet A series – what practical things can we do to help save the planet? The Zoom link for this service is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84414776575?pwd=MWpiYWh1NkFpTThuZjg5cnFWbjVmZz09&from=msft