Lessons in Forgiveness

Within the life of the church, we are in a season of healing the nations, the tribes, the peoples by the grace of God alone paired with learning and growing as disciples and church together.

Unfortunately, the centuries have proven and continue to prove that human creatures often fail to learn, especially the first 100+ times.

We have recently heard about the importance and challenges of community.

We have recently witnessed Jesus’ expanding of divine grace to the unexpected.

These join in our scriptures about the importance of forgiveness paired with a warning about judging.

We begin with Joseph, who was undeniably the favorite son of Jacob (Israel). Perhaps, Joseph enjoyed reminding his brothers of his status. His brothers did not properly address the conflict, but rather sold him into slavery.

Joseph become an important man in Egypt because of his integrity, dreams, and the ability to interpret dreams. One dream foretold of seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of drought. Egypt was able to prepare accordingly, however the neighboring nations did not benefit from the prophecy and suffered greatly. One neighboring nation was the 12 tribes of Israel, or essentially Joseph’s brothers and their families.

Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt with the intention of seeking, begging for merciful aid in their basic needs.

Can you envision their expressions, their despair that came over the brothers recognizing that Joseph was the person who controlled their fate?

Although Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is not explicit, it is implicit.

Joseph teaches a truth that counters our human history, a truth with the power to end a toxic cycle. This truth is that those who have been oppressed/abused, do not necessarily become oppressors/abuser when able.

In recent years, a love one shared a confession with me.
It was the fear that when “minorities”, particularly our black siblings, become the majority within the United States of America, the “whites” will be subjected to the oppressions and abuses that they have and continue to subject our brown and black siblings.

As one raised in a more diverse community and time, I shared that my experience with black and brown siblings is a desire for equality and equity, but not revenge. Perhaps our brown and black siblings, at least those I know and love, have learned a lesson from Joseph that would benefit all.

A few centuries after Joseph, Peter asks Jesus how many times are we called to forgive a sibling who wrongs us. Peter suggests, perhaps prays, that the appropriate number is seven providing the opportunity for us to carry a notebook listing our relationships with space enough for seven tick marks each.

In fairness, I do have a Scot-Irish temper AND my immediate family would share:

  1. When I am done, I am DONE; and
  2. It is not always a challenge for me to reach said point of no return.

Jesus teaches that we are to forgive a sibling more than seven times.

  • In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), it is translated as 77 times.
  • In other translations, it is translated as 70 x 7 (490 times).

Whether it is 77 or 490 times, Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) about the abundance of forgiveness we have received from God.

Jesus teaches that despite us (humans) experiencing the divine debt forgiveness beyond our ability to repay and our imaginations, we struggle to mirror this divine mercy, grace, and forgiveness to our human siblings.

Jesus teaches that the one who refuses mercy, grace, and forgiveness to a sibling with be tormented. Jesus, again, teaches a practical truth. It is with-holding forgiveness is similar to drinking a toxic poison and expecting it to harm the other person AND that our own healing is impossible without extending forgiveness to the one who wronged us.

The Apostle Paul expands that the opposition, the enemy, to forgiveness is judgment and intolerance. We are called to not pass judgment upon another because God is the ONLY righteous judge.

Unfortunately rooted in our sinful natures, we easily misjudge persons in regards to their race, ethnicity, and nationality; gender, gender identity, and sexuality; socioeconomics; political affiliations; religious adherence or lack thereof; and so forth. These judgments are not only often inaccurate but also harmful.

Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism that we are to always and forever seek the most positive light to view our human siblings and their actions, thus to not rush into harmful assumptions and judgment. This is particularly difficult within toxic relationships whose history is marked with challenges, traumas, and abuses. These are relationships that forgiveness may have to be extended while maintaining distance.

We have wronged God a million times a DAY in thought, word, and deed, and yet God continues to extend mercy, grace, and forgiveness to us.

As I shared, I am not a prime example of embodying Jesus’ lessons and mirroring God’s divine forgiveness. Unfortunately, I have the knowledge and understanding but not always the wisdom to put it into practice.

May we learn from Jacob to extend forgiveness and not seek revenge.

May we learn from Jesus the extent of our debt that God has forgiven us.

May we learn from Jesus to mirror and
extend said forgiveness to our siblings, near and far.

May we learn from Paul that our judgment and
intolerance of another opposes forgiveness.

May we be granted the wisdom to extend forgiveness,
in order that we might heal.


Scriptures were Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 14: 1-12; and Matthew 18: 21-35.
Originally preached on 13 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

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