Grace and Peace to you from the mystery in whom we live and move, and have our being. Seventy times seven.
Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”Matthew 18:21-35
Seventy times seven
As I read all the Lectionary passages for today, but particularly the Matthew text, I think of the emphasis on forgiveness. As I read the Parable, the Psalms (Psalm 103, Psalm 114), the writings from Exodus (Exodus 14:19-31, Exodus 15), I see the emphasis on slaves being freed, but I also see in the writings the punishment executed on a whole collection of oppressors. I cannot ignore the contradictions in all of these passages, that is, the desire for revenge and forgiveness at the same time. Perhaps we need to forgive the writers, for they know not what they write.
Where does this desire for harsh punishment being dealt on an oppressor come from? I believe it comes from fear. The inability to forgive comes from fear. There is no love in fear, only punishment. Fear is the hidden obstacle in all of these passages. Fear that is not dealt with produces the desire to love and punish simultaneously – one out of duty, the other out of revenge. Yet these two things cannot go together!
Perfect love casts out fear
1 John 4:18 reads, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” It says there is no fear in love. So as we read the Scriptures, we see the very human condition presented by the writers. There is both a fear, and an intention to forgive, or at least, an intention to teach forgiveness.
Perfect love casts out all fear. Love and fear cannot coexist.
I had a client once, in recovery, who came to me because she said she had something to speak to the spiritual director about. This was something she’d never spoken of to her therapists during any of her three different treatment stays.
She said she believed her relapses might be because of what she has never told anyone, and it haunts her with guilt. The client shared that she had two abortions in her past, and that she believed these acts did not fit with her theology and she should be punished. She said she knew that God forgives her, but she just couldn’t forgive herself. This is a condition that most of us have experienced sometime in our lives. After much discernment our conclusions were:
- She believed she needed freedom from her feelings of guilt and shame;
- To be punished was the only way to even the scales of justice;
- If God refused to punish her, she wanted to punish herself with self-hatred and loathing; and finally
- If God chose not to condemn her, she needed to wield the power of justice in place of God.
To forgive one’s self opens us to the possibility of forgiving another. But to forgive another is not to dispense mercy or justice, for only God has that authority. But it is God who is opening us up to grace and mercy, when we are completely unable. We are merely opening ourselves up to what God can do when we can’t.
Forgiveness is an invitation by God to be free not to take on the authority of God. Forgiveness releases the space in our hearts occupied by the desires for justice to be done, the idea that I cannot be free unless justice is done. Forgiveness is letting go of the fear that I’m going to be punished, or that somebody else doesn’t get the punishment that I think they deserve. Forgiveness does not condone, acquiesce, reframe or ignore. It is allowing God to be the God of others without us being deputized as God Jr.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Henry Rojas, spiritual director at Spirit in the Desert.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.