This past Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks. It’s amazing how fast time flies. Looking back, as the morning news shows did on Friday, those memories flooded back into my mind. We’ve been so preoccupied with our present pandemic situation and the civil unrest, that the Sept.11th attacks weren’t on my radar. I have been reminded how far our nation has moved since then. Hopefully, we are getting close to seeing the end of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our country, the world, and our lives as individuals have all been changed by the terrible events experienced that day. We cannot forget the destruction, the loss of innocent lives, the hatred and evil that were thrust upon us by an extremist group bent on our destruction. Hopefully, we can now begin to move in a different direction and put more effort into repairing our nation’s divides that are exposing the injustices many have been facing for far too long.
With the attacks freshened in our minds, with the unrest and violence we are facing here at home, the concept of forgiveness comes front and center. How do we forgive our ‘enemies’ as well as our own citizens, and pray for those who disagree with, even persecute, us?
Our First Lesson from Genesis is an amazing story of forgiveness. The parable Jesus told is a difficult, yet important lesson on forgiveness. How do we understand Jesus’ parable and the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers in light of the events our country is dealing with as well as any broken relationships in our own lives? Jesus’ words on repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation seem to be some of the most difficult teachings He shared with us.
You might remember that Joseph was the youngest of the sons of Jacob, our ancestors in the faith. Joseph was seemingly Jacob’s favorite, and his brothers resented him greatly. To make a long, but interesting story shorter, they sold Joseph into slavery and told Jacob that he was dead. Joseph was sold to the Pharaoh in Egypt and over time and through some rather interesting experiences, became Pharaoh’s most trusted advisor and his 2nd in command of the country. During a famine, Jacob’s sons went to Egypt for food and relief from the famine. When they encountered Joseph and they realized they were at his mercy. That’s where our First Lesson begins.
They received reconciliation and forgiveness with their brother and went on to live peacefully in Egypt for generations. Forgiveness among family members can be a difficult thing. Often families that have been divided and hurt in some way have become irreparably split and forgiveness with reconciliation is rare. Many families deal with the effects of a broken relationship among family members. Joseph’s story is a powerful example of the Bible’s teachings about forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus teaches us in His parable that forgiveness is an extravagant and precious thing. The slave who begged the King to forgive his debt of 10,000 talents owed the King approximately 150,000 years’ worth of income. In those days, a person could be thrown into debtor’s prison and the family would be enslaved to work off the debt. It’s a debt that was/is totally beyond comprehension.
But what did the King do? He had compassion on the slave and forgave him this outlandish debt! The slave, being freed of his and his family’s lives of slavery, then ran into someone who owed him a debt of 100 denarii—or about 100 days’ wages. The forgiven slave then ordered the man thrown in prison until that debt was repaid! When the King found out about this he was enraged and ordered the slave to be tortured until his entire debt was paid.
So, what do we get from this parable? How can we assimilate it into our lives? Jesus is comparing the King’s forgiveness to the forgiveness God has granted to each of us. How are we going to respond to such forgiveness? The obvious point is that the onus is on us to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is easier said than done, however. Forgiveness does not come easily for sinful people.
Amazing accounts of forgiveness are out there, though. We hear of them quite regularly. When a family is able to work out their problems and hurts to patch up their relationships, God rejoices.
It’s interesting to note how our country’s former ‘enemies’ have now either become friends, or relations have calmed and are beginning to normalize after bitter struggles. In our country’s history, we have had wars with: the French, the British, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Germans in 2 world wars, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, and we were at odds with the USSR for generations during the ‘cold war’ period in our history. Now France, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, and Japan are our friends or allies.
Stories of WW II veterans who have returned to Europe and have reunited with former enemies are exciting examples of this kind of forgiveness and reconciliation. One of our oldest members, Duane Donley, has told of his trips to Germany and Poland where he served in WW II. He tells how he has become friends with some men he fought against in WW II. It’s a powerful story for me to hear of how reconciliation can take place where once there was bitter animosity. Duane tells of friendships he has made with former German soldiers and how they treat him with respect. This is the type of forgiveness that Jesus is urging us to find with others.
Forgiveness is truly always a ‘work in progress.’ Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and lots of work. It takes a change in attitude, a change of heart, and a strong commitment to live by Jesus’ teachings.
Forgiveness also involves a huge dose of humility. It takes a lot for someone to let go of past hurts, and it takes a concerted effort to rebuild relationships that have either been strained, broken, or misunderstood. I’m sure those veterans who return to Europe, Vietnam, Japan, or other places of conflict and war have needed a lot of time and a lot of thought and prayer to come to the point of forgiveness.
When we come to understand this parable Jesus gave us, and the depth of forgiveness that God shows us each and every day of our lives, maybe we can begin to deal with the broken relationships in our own lives. God loves us so much that He willingly sent His Son to suffer and die for OUR sins, that we might be reconciled to Him. He puts the onus on us to do everything in our power to do the same in our relationships with those who have hurt us.
We pray for peace and for an end to warfare, and we pray for justice and reconciliation here among our own people. Realistically, we understand the scope of this struggle and of human sin. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can only live our lives following our Lord’s command to forgive others as we have been forgiven as we pray in the Prayer He taught us.