Genesis 50:15-21 Psalm 103:1-13 Romans 14:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
You remember last week we heard Jesus’ instructions for settling disputes in the Church. Two who disagree should talk it over. If they cannot resolve the problem themselves they take it to a couple of wise elders in the Church. If that doesn’t resolve things then they should go to the Church as a whole and if that doesn’t do the trick ostracise the party in the wrong, that is, excommunicate him or her. Tough stuff ! Especially as God wants to save sinners not condemn them.
So there seems to be a difference in the guidance we receive today from last week’s. Today we hear we must forgive, and forgive and forgive. Last week we were told to cut our losses and cut our ties with an offender if its remedy wasn’t working. The key between the two seeming opposites lies in another great teaching in Luke where Jesus says “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Luke 17:3-4). So forgiveness is assured and intrinsically tied to repentance. Think about it. What if I think I have done you no harm, why and for what reason do I have to repent and say I’m sorry ? So why would I repent and ask you to you forgive me ? I don’t want your forgiveness ?
If I did I would be admitting guilt, admitting I was wrong when I believe I am not. We see things like this all the time. Our neighbour idles his truck and his cars ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time. The air fills up with fumes and they even infiltrate our house. When I approach him about this he says he has to do it because it’s best for his engines. I say it’s not best for us or the environment. We have a basic conflict of rights, his and mine, and a different opinion on duty. If I forgive him he won’t change because he believes he has done no wrong. The onus falls on me and others to demonstrate the wrong, convince him of the error of his ways and to instill in him some concept of his duty to society. He is a climate change denier and I am nothing but a pain in the derriere ! What am I going to do ? I won’t forgive him until he demonstrates some remorse and changes his ways. But if he does say sorry, and then does it again saying sorry I must forgive him as long as the day is long, every time, for some people cannot help themselves.
But when we look at this world that is full of people doing unfortunate, even bad things to others, keep in mind that there is a God who is in control. Take the lesson from Joseph’s story. Joseph was a brat, a prig, really difficult to live with as a child, so his brothers got rid of him, by selling him into slavery. That is a terrible thing to do to anyone let alone your brother. Remember Cain “Am I my brother’s keeper ? (Genesis 4:9) Well, yes. The brothers really sinned but God used their sin to straighten out Joseph and to put him into a position to redeem God’s people the Israelites, and to teach the brothers a lesson in right behaviour – three birds with one stone ! Not bad eh ! So when you see sin do not despair all is not lost because although God does not condone Sin God can work around it and use it to benefit His plan for us. God always triumph’s over Sin.
Paul very clearly says that God hopes we will be of one mind and be tolerant of each other, not concerning Sin but differences of opinion, particularly about faith. Which is the right day to worship ? I think he is saying all days are right. Is there stuff we should or should not eat ? There are many differences of opinions on that one, from omnivore, to kosher, to vegetarian, to vegan. Paul says don’t make an issue about it. Yet the Pope this last week said that gluten free Communion Bread was not permitted in the Roman Catholic Mass although they accept GMOs ! The Pope should have a look again at Romans 14:1-12. Halal is of another religion and as Paul says does not concern us as Christians, eat or not it’s up to you, you are not making a statement about belief in Islam if you eat halal food. We should not pass judgement on them either but rather bring them to the True Faith of Christianity.
Now there is another aspect to this question. If someone does you wrong and doesn’t repent and doesn’t ask for forgiveness what should be your attitude towards them ? Well let me put it in the negative, we should not hold a grudge against them. Grudges set the table for a whole history of resentment, negativity and temptation to get our own back, retaliation is surely a sin, even though on the human emotional level it feels pretty good, all it really does is perpetuate animosity. Grudges sit in the backs of our minds and fester away using up precious time and energy that could be used in loving those close to us. And there is always the probability that retaliation will spark revenge and so on and so on. Nobody wins in that scenario. So we can apply what Jesus recommended last week and have nothing to do with that person, neither forgiving nor hating. As always when we read the whole text Jesus’ teaching works out perfectly there is no difference or conflict in the Word of God. Always be aware that it is not up to us to judge (Matthew 7:1a). None of us is perfect, I know that about me and know that when I see or hear of a transgressor I often say “There but for the Grace of God, go I”. It is so easy to go wrong and when we seed the ground with grudges or worse hate, things can go bad really quickly, and irrevocably. Leave things to God our Psalmist says “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” leave it to God, we have enough to worry about. Amen.