Year A, Proper 19
Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
A few years ago I was humbled and learned so much about forgiveness from some friends back home in Virginia. Katelyn and Patrick had been friends for years. Patrick’s girlfriend even became roommates with Katelyn during college. However, in the fallout of Patrick’s and his girlfriend’s breakup he had built up resentment towards Katelyn and even blamed her in some ways for the gut-wrenching heartbreak he found himself in the midst of. In his pain he spread word that Katelyn was to blame for nosing her way in, telling lies. It was devastating for Katelyn, who truly had no hand in the situation, to experience this lashing out from Patrick’s brokenness. It became awkward for the wider friend group, and events like weddings of dear friends were spent trying to steer clear of one another.
After some time passed and life moved on, Katelyn moving out of state, Patrick finding his way to a new partner that would later become his wife, the two found themselves at yet another shared event. A rehearsal dinner on the night before a wedding. Patrick came up to Katelyn as she stood alone in the backyard. Her heart raced as she truly did not want to be a part of an unfolding scene. However, to her total surprise, Patrick said to her, “I owe you an apology. You see, a few years ago when my relationship ended I could not deal with my own stuff. I thought I needed to blame someone and it was so easy to blame you. I am truly sorry for the harm I have caused you and I hope you can forgive me.”
Her eyes filled with tears and without words, she reached out to her friend and hugged him. Forgiveness in the form of an embrace. It wasn’t just like it had been for them or our group of friends. But it was a way for us all to start anew from this powerful and humble example of forgiveness. Patrick and Katelyn were liberated to carry on in love.
Forgiveness is what we are invited to wrestle with today as Peter, the foundation of the church poses this question to Jesus. Just how much are we expected to forgive? In response, Jesus uses a bit of an absurd parable to get the point across… intentionally extreme and relying on hyperbole (Feasting on the Word). We find ourselves bearing witness to a harsh scene with a moment of forgiveness that seems to be lost on the one who is forgiven. The unfolding of this story illustrates what happens in relationships and community when we leave no room for grace. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, wants the disciples to understand just how prominent forgiveness is to be in their shared life with one another.
“The king’s threat, like God’s law, is a mirror that brings the servant/sinner to self-knowledge and repentance.” It is in doing so that one, here the servant in debt, is able to “acknowledge the overwhelming weight of their debt” and then can “see the true greatness of mercy” (Feasting on the Word). It is in the reflection of that mirror that the servant could cry out before the lord and find his life changed forever by way of forgiveness. And you would think, as one who has just experienced this depth of mercy, he would go and pay it forward, but he certainly does not. Instead, the forgiven one acts harshly and violently towards one who owes him.
The dynamic between the slaves, or servants depending on what translation you read, in this parable is a reminder that we are to practice forgiveness with one another (Feasting on the Word). As Christians forgiveness is an absolute not a maybe. “Recognizing sin, requiring accountability, exercising forgiveness” is who we are as a people (Feasting on the Word). We speak of forgiveness every time we utter the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is what brought Jesus to the cross, and the thing that keeps us community around the Table. “Those who truly understand the magnitude of God’s mercy must pay it forward to their debtors” (Feasting on the Word). The Lord forgives us, and we forgive others.
That is not to say that it is easy. I think we all know it is more complicated than “forgive and forget”. Again, recognizing sin and requiring accountability are parts of this aspect of community. Still, there are many things I would like not to forgive, especially in our nation that is currently heaving with pain and fury and is literally on fire. And in addition to the message of this parable, “It is now widely known that unforgiveness, or holding on to hurts and resentments, deeply affects our emotional and physical health” (Feasting on the Word). I would also add… our spiritual health. Brokenness begets brokenness.
I am reminded of a video that circulated a few years ago from Pastor Nada Boltz Weber. She talks about the hurt we absorb from one another to be like a chain that binds us. If we are not careful we become the worst parts of those who have hurt us as we settle into resentment. Forgiveness breaks that chain… liberating us. Not to say that what happened was ok, but to say I refuse to be connected to and controlled by the wounds I have experienced.
Forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook, it is not saying “it’s ok, no worries”… it is freeing ourselves from the chain that binds us as our resentment festers and begins to consume us. We forgive not just because we are forgiven. We forgive because we know that God wants wholeness for all of us and holding fast to wounds keeps us and the person we are chaining ourselves to in a pattern of holding on to brokenness. Forgiveness is freedom… just like the freedom promised and given to the Israelites. We forgive because it is foundational to who we are.
We seek to find the courage to be both the Patrick and the Katelyn. To humble ourselves when we have wounded, and to extend the embrace and be liberated together in love. To break the chain that binds us. This is one of the hardest things we will do. And we will try to do it time and time again. When we feel we can’t… we call on God. Trusting in God’s forgiveness that is there for all. Knowing it is God who can soften all of our hearts, and show us what chains we are being called to break… and the ways we are being called to pay our God-given forgiveness forward.
I want to invite us all to take a few seconds to reflect on this.
I ask you to quiet your spirit and open the ears of your heart to God.
(pause for reflection)
So… How is God calling you to extend the same grace that God extends to you… to pay it forward and break the chain? Amen.