September 13, 2023
Pastor Cathy Daharsh
A woman at a breakfast place reads a flashing sign that says, “Ignorant people avenge,” interspersed with “Coffee, eggs and toast: $4.00.” “Strong people forgive” was the next message, followed by another breakfast special. Finally, “Wise people ignore.”
Watching the curious mix of advice plus breakfast specials kept her thinking until her food arrived. She was on board with “strong people forgive,” and yet “wise people ignore” felt like a free pass for bad behavior.
This week Jesus has a demanding word about how often we need to forgive others. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a sibling that has wronged him. Peter throws out the number 7. And Jesus responds with not 7 times but 7 X 77, which equals 539. Is Jesus asking too much of us? And do we have to apply it to everyone in our lives, too?
We begin a new theme this week Sunday, Embracing Kinship, a theme that leads us to think about how we relate and connect to one another. Forgiveness is at the heart of kinship as we develop unity and harmony in relationships and create better communication and interaction among each other.
Jesus’ challenge of forgiveness in this Sunday’s reading is intended for people who are connected to each other in community. He illustrates his message with a parable about the servant who receives mercy and then fails to pass it on. The contrast invites us to think about where forgiveness flows in and out of our lives, and where it gets stuck.
In his new book, Trust, Henry Cloud proposes that we forgive people for our own spiritual health, not for the benefit of the other party. He writes, “Unforgiveness can turn you into a bitter, vengeful person. It causes you to lose aspects of your soul and life to the person who betrayed you. As long as you hold on to what wrong they did, they still own you. As I heard someone say once, “When you remain angry, you are just a character in someone else’s story.” When you let go and forgive, you are free to write your own story.”
He adds, "Forgiveness cleans out the past so you can evaluate what you want to do with the future. Just because you forgive someone does not mean you trust them. Forgiveness is free. It’s something you grant a person for no reason having anything to do with them. You do it for your own good, so you can move beyond the pain of what they did to you."
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who has written extensively on repentance, repair and forgiveness, notes that we confuse the three. For Jewish people, she says, the emphasis is on repentance, not forgiveness. “If I’m doing internal work and not actually making amends, then I’m not doing complete repentance work. If I’m not apologizing to the person I harmed and attending to their material, emotional or spiritual needs, then that’s not repentance work. I’m not doing the active things to repair the hole in the cosmos I created…”
Danya Ruttenberg adds, “forgiveness can be deeply internal. You don’t always have to forgive. Repentance can happen without being forgiven. And even if you forgive the person who harmed you, you can choose never to tell them. Nothing says that you’re obligated to let the other person know.”
Truth be told, there is no one-size-fits-all in the realm of forgiveness. No matter what the sign at the breakfast place says! We’ll explore that on Sunday. Hope to see you then.