Monday, March 1, 2010

Forgive- Any upper limit? To what extend?


A group of Christian missionaries met in Delhi, India, with representatives of other religions to discuss their beliefs. In the course of their talks a member of a major non-Christian religion said to a missionary, "Tell me one thing your religion can offer the Indians that mine can't." The missionary thought for a moment and replied, "Forgiveness! Forgiveness!"

Forgiveness is an important teaching of the Bible. Jesus in his teaching stressed the need of forgiveness very much. During the sermon on mount, Jesus taught about forgiveness. At one point of time Peter came to Jesus and asked an important question. Peter wanted to have a numerical number as to how many times he should forgive someone. Peter also had a suggestion for Jesus. Is it seven times? You can find this in Matthew 18:21-35. I guess that since Jesus stressed on forgiveness many times during his teaching and since forgiving someone is not an easy thing, Peter wanted to know the upper limit. How many times? Till what extend should I tolerate. Till what point should I wait before I give up? Rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offend them three times. Peter was trying to be more generous and suggested the perfect number seven.

Jesus gave an interesting answer and continued with the parable of unforgiving debtor. Jesus said seventy times seven. It means four hundred and ninety (490) times. It’s not easy to count or keep tract of 490 times. Jesus was meaning that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive. To say that I forgive is easy but to forget, it’s very difficult. That’s why we keep history and remember exactly the number of times someone has offended us. One story which I read recently was interesting and it clearly exposes our problem.

Eunice, a former missionary to Liberia, told a story about forgiveness. An African man worked for her, and one day she caught him stealing clothes from her house. "Please forgive me," he pleaded. “I did wrong. I promise not to do it again." She forgave him and allowed him to continue working for her. But less than a month passed before she caught him stealing again, "Look at you!" she said. "You've stolen again!" The bright fellow stared at her and yelled back, "What kind of a Christian are you?" Eunice, dumbfounded, had no idea how to respond. "If you forgave me, you do not remember it." the man said. "If you did not remember it, such a thing did not happen."

How true it is. I have seen people bring all the old historical events and problems when they discuss some issues. They have already asked forgiveness and said that they have forgiven. But our human nature tends to keep old things and its shows lack of genuine forgiveness from our side. Now in the parable, this man couldn’t forgive his servant who owed him much less compared to what he had to pay to the king. In the end the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Jesus concludes the subject by saying that “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”(Matthew 18:35) It’s a strong warning for us. It’s very important that we forgive people from our heart. It’s also important that we forget what we have forgiven. It’s difficult. At least make a conscious effort not to speak about or argue about the matters you have already forgiven. Don’t dwell on the issues you have already forgiven. Just imagine if God brings back all our sins and put it in front of us every time we ask him forgiveness. We were sinners and we are saved by the grace of God and when we asked forgiveness he accepted us and forgave all our sins. Remember that our king has cancelled all the big debts when we asked him. Can’t we forgive the small things which other people may do against us? Let’s be genuine disciples and develop the habit of forgiving and forgetting.

Augustine once said - "if you are suffering from a bad man's injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men.