|Harold Copping (British illustrator, 1863-1932), |
"The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant."
Watching children try to manuever around life is sometimes wonderful and sometimes painful. There's hardly any toddler who hasn't had the goose egg on their skull from trying to get their legs to support their weight. There's hardly any mother who doesn't have wet-wipes in her bag just waiting for the next mishap.
All of us have gone through the disappointment of red ink on a school assignment. We have suffered the humiliation of dropping a ball or not being able to run fast enough. Each of us have felt the rejection of our dreams.
Growing up is hard. What happens when you assemble a group of people who are growing up? There are a lot of awkward moments. There are many mistakes. There are tears, fights and tantrums. There are cuts, scrapes and scars. What is an assembly of people who are growing up? The church.
What would anyone see in a real church photo? Some smiles and some missing teeth. Some suits and some jeans. Some nice heads of hair and some bald. Some with limbs and some with no limbs. Some with absolute joy and some with stern seriousness.
These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. These are my fellow heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn't choose them. They didn't choose me. But here we are in the same house living together. Sometimes it is wonderful. Sometimes it is not so wonderful.
Anyone who reads the history of God's people know this is the case. For example, Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin and encouraged her to be with another man. Judah got drunk and had sex with a prostitute who turned out to be his daughter. Moses flew into rage and killed a man. David killed a man so that he could have sex with his wife. Paul hunted down and killed Christians.
The only one, in fact, who looks any good at all in the history of God's people is our Heavenly Father. His grace, mercy and forgiveness shine through time and time again as He rescues and helps His people time and time and time again.
With the backdrop of God's family history come another motley crew chosen by our Lord, the disciples. These uneducated fishermen, tax collector, rural zealots, etc... knew they were a part of something very special. They were witnessing things they never dreamed possible. They knew the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. And, they started thinking about their own place in it. And so, like most immature people, they started arguing with each other about who was the greatest.
Jesus hears their bickering and tells them how to be great. He also gives clear instructions of how to deal with brothers and sisters who sin. Peter then comes in with a logical question, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" In other words, how many times should I put up with someone who hurts me?
Anyone who has lived with a family knows that grace and forgiveness must be a part of the home. It's a very short term relationship without it. Good parents have asked their children to apologise to each other countless times. Good marriages are laced with much grace and forgiveness.
Forgiveness says "I know you are better than this." Forgiveness is hope. Forgiveness has faith in the one who mercifully allows us to grow in His grace. Forgiveness loves the other because we always see the other's best potential and not the past misses of the target.
As Paul says, "Love keeps no record of wrongs." During the opening scenes of the film "Almost Famous", the mother of 11-year-old William Miller encourages him, giving him lots of praise. The older daughter asks, "What about me?" The mother responds, "You are rebellious and ungrateful of my love." Instantly, you can feel the remaining air coming out of her and she deflates within her seat.
When we refuse to forgive someone, we label them. We tell them actively and/or passively that this is who they are. And, being the social creatures people are, especially when we draw so much identity from the ones we love, we begin to believe that we are the label. We see ourselves as others see us and respond to that label in our own way. We start living out our lives as stupid, mean, hopeless, gullible, loser, ugly, hateful, etc...
Our Father in Heaven, however, doesn't see us this way. He reaches out through His Son Jesus and says, "I know you are better than this." He quickly picks us up when we bang our head into the coffee table. He hugs us when we had a hurtful fight with a sister. He tells us its okay after we wreck his car after just getting our driver's license. He walks with us every step of the way as long as we want him to as he teaches us everything we need to know about life.
Darwin says that if we the strong must rid themselves of the weak for the good of the whole species. Karma says that we are living the lives we are supposed to live. Karma allows castes. It is perfect justice to have those who have much not help those who have little because they deserve it. It is easy to leave when we are hurt. It's instinct. It's self-preservation.
Mercy and forgiveness is what allows us to be better people. Mercy and forgiveness is the philosophy behind hospitals and schools for all. Mercy and forgiveness allows those who have to help others to have as well. The realisation of God's mercy quickly sheds any veneer of pride and arrogance that keeps us from loving one another. It's better to stay when we are hurt and use our pain to remind others that they are better than what they have done to hurt us.
Our Father who is in Heaven, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.