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The Work of Forgiveness — Second Chances

February 2, 2009

Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and women get derailed!  The “tomorrow” written of in my previous post has been waiting for a week and a half.  That’s what sinus infections and colds can do to you — it’s hard to think–let alone type (at least that’s the excuse I’ll use).  But really the time is a gift, because forgiveness is not always something that is neatly tied up.  It is isn’t tying up loose ends and then pretending nothing happened.  Extending forgiveness means attending to loose ends that refuse to be tied up the first time.

Such is the case with second chances.

Matthew 18:23-35 is the section of scripture that my Bible refers to as The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  It starts out, “For the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.” I think we need to pay attention in this comparison to “who” initiates contact — isn’t it the same with God?  He initiates, He originates.  The language and description fits with these ancient times, so of course the hearers would have been listening and nodding their heads.  But this king is different — he responded when asked for mercy.  Verse 26: “So the slave fell on his knees before him saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And our of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” We often skim over this part.  But it’s worth noting that the lord in this story heard the plea of his slave, listened to him and took the next step — released him (forgave him) of the debt the slave owed to him.   It may or may not have been a significant amount to the lord, but it was a significant debt to the slave.  It was a huge debt, beyond the life of the slave to repay.  Forgiven, wiped clean, a clean slate, a fresh start — all were granted with a few words.  It would be like taking a deep breath and letting it out without any burdens attached.  What would you and I do with such a second chance?  What comes to mind?

Many of us know this story and so we move ahead (but I hope you will spend some time reading through it slowly, there is much here).  The now forgiven slave, on his way out sees a fellow slave (someone just like him) who owes him money.  Was this slave also on his way to see the king?  We don’t know.  The now forgiven slave jumps at the chance to put some money — to have his own money — into his pocket.  He is rightly deserving isn’t he?  According to the custom and law of the land this now forgiven slave has a right to be paid back.  He is within his rights.  Except.  Except he was given an undeserved second chance.  On one hand his status has not changed — he is still a slave.  On the other hand his status has changed, greatly (yes I’m putting an emphasis on greatly).   But rather than mirror what the king had done for him, this slave wants amends, pay back for what is owed him.

Come on now, think about it… it would seem that offering a second chance would be easy … most of the time it probably is, but not always, even when we have been freshly and undeservedly forgiven.   We can’t be too quick to assume that the just forgiven slave was a jerk to begin with.  The second slave in this story did not approach the just forgiven slave and ask for forgiveness.  Is that what “ticked off” the just forgiven slave?  Was he thinking or expecting that the slave that owed the just forgiven slave would ask for mercy just as he had done before the king?  Maybe he was.  I know there have been times when that’s what I thought should happen because that’s the way things should be.  I think I’m beginning to understand this parable just a bit more.

Over the past month or so I have been realizing my need to extend second chances.  I have had to revisit places of  hurt and confusion.  I do not pretend that it is easy.  The one I need to extend a “second chance” to may not get it (if you know what I mean, may not realize they need to change or ask me for forgiveness because they hurt me.  Now do you get it?)  The tendency is to peel away the top layer and think I’m done.  But sometimes situations reveal more work is needed.  In the past week or so I have realized in God’s grace and mercy that I was not extending a second chance to someone that needed a second chance.

Forgiveness is an odd thing and it is something we can heed.  Unforgiveness binds –both the one that has created the offense and the one that has been wronged.  Forgiveness is odd, because forgiveness releases.  It can be a process.  Humanly speaking we can forgive (psychologists attest to the whole being wellness that results), but the work of healing forgiveness that seeks the wholeness of the other.  We are unbound and released — both the forgiver and the one being forgiven.

It means laying aside revenge.  Revenge is something we hold onto because we have our hands around what it is we want to avenge.  When we let go of revenge (something the now forgiven slave could not do) we can then take the next step in forgiveness.

We can genuinely come to a place of actually longing for the welfare of the person (or persons) who committed the injury.  Forgiveness desires wholeness.  It is not just sweeping the offense under the rug and pretend it never existed.  That is pretending and pretending does not bring wholeness.  In fact what is under the rug will be swept out.  As Roberta Bondi reminds us in To Pray and To Love in many cases such as addiction or abuse using the virtue of discernment (and the accompaniment of wise counselors too) we can recognize and refuse to cooperate in behavior that destroys and prevents the wholeness of the other person or ourselves.   “Wanting the others well-being is not necessarily wanting what he or she wants.  It is wanting another to be able to live in the love God created us for” (page 114).  That includes both you and me.

I realized I did not truly want the wholeness of the other because I was refusing to extend a second chance.   Honestly, I was being like the just forgiven slave who did not want to extend mercy to the one who owed me.  During the span of these past days I have ask God to be with me in seeing my past hurt from a different perspective, seeing the one I needed to forgive from a different viewpoint, and I have thought about what it is and what encompasses wanting the wholeness of the other.

True authencity arises when we forgive one another.  Forgiveness paves the way for community.  And I am discovering God’s shalom — God’s peace as I forgive.  May the love of Christ draw us so that we might live in God’s love.

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