His disciples asked Jesus just how often they should/must forgive a brother or sister. In response Jesus gave them a number: either 77 or seven times 70, depending on the Bible translation you’re reading. In either case, it means pretty much the same thing: Never stop forgiving!
Jesus goes on to share a parable. Unlike many of his others, this parable is clear, understandable, and obvious. Maybe Jesus thought this topic was so important, so critical to the functioning of his kingdom that he didn’t want even the most dim-witted of his inner circle to misunderstand. In its own way it’s a commentary on the lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As part of a philosophical discussion this instruction is so evident in its meaning and purpose that it almost requires no further thought. Yet when we move from the realm of the theoretical to the actual, well, there’s the rub.
Of all the Sundays when the lectionary focuses on forgiveness, what an interesting coincidence that this year it falls on the Sunday after the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, and the plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania.
Whoa, most of us probably immediately think: How is it even conceivable to contemplate this topic near September 11th? One way out, of course, is to zoom in on the idea that Jesus told his disciples they were to forgive members of their own faith community (brothers/sisters, church, or however else that Greek word is translated), so this situation doesn’t apply. That feels like a cop-out to me.
Although it’s been more than a decade and a half (and consider what those years have brought, with war and economic catastrophy just for starters–plus record-shattering natural disasters with floods, earthquakes, and wildfires), those of us who lived through that day and the ones immediately following it have little trouble being transported back. The media replays those towers burning and crashing, people screaming and running and, soon, scouring the streets of New York City with posters of their missing loved ones.
The United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (and wherever else the so-called “War on Terror” took it), which led to tens of thousands of other deaths, and easily dramatic changes in life and lifestyle to millions more. There’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and, eventually, Navy Seal Team 6 taking out Osama bin Laden on the direct orders of the President. We’ve changed presidencies from Bush 2 to Obama to Trump, yet the terrorists atacks and wars in the middle east go on.
With all that not just in the background but in our faces, how can we possibly talk about forgiveness? Isn’t it too soon, too powerful, too sensitive, too whatever?
Someone once said that evil can imagine only itself. Righteousness, however, can imagine both good and evil. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision–and a process at that. And so the formula becomes Remember, Forgive, Repeat.
I recall reading the comments of someone whose loved one had died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. She wrote that every September as this anniversary rolls around it’s as if she has to live through her loved-one’s memorial service all over again. The pain and grief come rushing back. But she hopes, somehow, that each ensuing anniversary will bring some kind of closure to that, and that from that point on she can start replacing the pain of the past with hope for the future. I pray she can–and that so many others personally touched by 9/11 can do the same.
My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book.The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use.