Readings: Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
God’s mission or purpose in the world is for community. God’s people have always understood themselves in that way. God has always been setting peoples apart for a special kind of community, community among themselves and community with God. Israel is God’s people, set apart to be a light to all the nations. And then God came, revealed in Jesus Christ and blew the roof off of what that community meant. Jesus started including the outcast and the sinners, the gentiles.
Jesus Christ, God among us, died on a cross and rose from the dead so that every knee should bend and every tongue confess him as Lord. So that everyone would be included in God’s community. God’s mission in this world is making and strengthening community—among us, each other, and with God.
Forgiveness is what holds community together. Where forgiveness ends, community dies. Whether that’s in a marriage, a friendship, or other. We cannot avoid differing, and offending one another. We can’t avoid entirely rubbing each other the wrong way. God has created us in too much wonderful diversity for that. So community is perpetuated by forgiveness. Yet, our human nature is to put limits on forgiveness.
Now, it must also be said that even this command or predisposition of forgiveness does not always mean only ignoring, forgetting, or enduring wrongs.
For instance, someone who has sinned against you in a way that puts you in continued harm. Forgiveness is NOT saying that everything is ok, and staying in a dangerous or destructive situation. These words of Jesus have been used this way; and that is a horrible abuse of this text. It is a terrible confusing of the gospel for demonic purposes. If you, or someone you know is in a harmful situation—know that Jesus is not saying to stay there. Get out. Get help.
Rather, forgiveness is about the perpetuation of community. And sometimes staying in community means physical distance. There are many layers to community. Forgiveness, as the first and only action in Christ, is about sustaining healthy, life-giving community in Christ; and that takes many shapes.
We all—as Peter displayed—try to count forgiveness. Though we have been given complete and total forgiveness ourselves, in Jesus Christ, we count the sins of others. We keep track, we seek payment, we desire justice over mercy. Even if we give our transgressors a second chance, a third chance…if somehow we are strong enough to give a seventh chance, we count.
God, in Jesus Christ, has forgiven you completely. In Christ you have received ten thousand talents, lifetimes of forgiveness—completely unearned! And in Christ, forgiveness extends through you to your neighbors. God desires that you are a conduit of that forgiveness in Christ for everyone.
The cessation of forgiveness is the death of community; and community is the work of God, and is the presence of Christ. So we, who are Christ’s body, are to forgive.
Apart from God, apart from the love and forgiveness of Christ, we cannot forgive our sisters and brothers. We are incapable of such things.
What is impossible for us, is possible with God. Life, salvation, forgiveness, and community is in Christ, in whom we have been baptized, and by whom we are fed with his own body and blood. God has gathered us to know us, to love us, and to unite us, in Jesus Christ, alone, for the sake of all.