I have fond memories of Charlie Brown when I was growing up. I remember one scene where Lucy shares her thoughts with Snoopy that “there are times when you really bug me, but I must admit there are times when I feel like giving you a big hug.” The reply was priceless… “That’s the way I am… huggable and buggable.” I know for myself, there are times I know I can be incredibly kind, and then there are times when I’m less concerned about what others might think… I need to do better, with God’s help, because left to myself, I fail more often than I care to admit.
Leo Buscaglia, one of my favorite authors, shared in one of his last lectures on lasting relationships, that while all of us have experienced sadness, disappointment, suffered pain, and known cruelty, many of us have made people sad, disappointed, caused pain, and have been cruel to those around us, intentionally or unintentionally. It is only when we can forgive what has been done to us that we can expect others to forgive us. It would certainly sadden me greatly if my 2 daughters would have a falling out and refused to speak or forgive one another. I can only imagine what our Heavenly Father must feel on a daily basis!
Matthew 18 is a wonderful chapter on experiencing the fullness of relationship. In the chapter, Jesus speaks highly of children as they have humbled themselves, admitted the need for a Savior, and as a result, have entered into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus cautions, however, against allowing sin to overshadow the impact of real relationship and warns about the consequences of unforgiveness. As Christians, we are called to be forgiving as we have been forgiven.
Jesus shares a parable about the Kingdom of God which ends with “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother with your heart.” The focus of this parable is about a reciprocal relationship between being forgiven and forgiving others. It presents a contrast between a slave who is forgiven a huge debt and a slave who begs forgiveness for a small debt. The large debt of ten thousand talents was a king’s ransom, an enormous amount of money. There is a story of Julius Caesar, one of the richest men in the world at the time, giving a gift of five thousand talents to the city of Rome. So the debt in the parable was twice that amount; unthinkable for any slave to have acquired that degree of debt.
The slave owed an enormous amount of money and when he pleaded with his lord, he was forgiven. However, he did not extend the forgiveness to a fellow slave who owed him a hundred denarii, which was a relatively small amount. A hundred denarii was the equivalent of a working man’s salary for one hundred days since the normal working man’s salary was a denarius a day (Matthew 20:2). The fellow slave was thrown into prison until he could pay because the slave who had been forgiven the huge debt would not forgive his small one.
The issue in this story is the contrast between the receiving of forgiveness and the extension of forgiveness. It is related to the same theme that is present in the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). The expectation and the clear structure of this story is to emphasize that the extension of forgiveness is based on having received forgiveness from God. We forgive others because we have been forgiven. The two are interrelated and cannot be separated. It is also a story that gets at the heart of one of the major problems in human relationships, a reluctance or refusal or inability to forgive.
For many years, I was angry with my Dad for how strict he was with us when we were growing up and for working so many hours. After coming to Christ years ago, and a LOT of prayer, I choose to let the anger go as it was weighing me down. The process wasn’t easy and I received comments that of all the people in my family, I was justified in being angry… it was “my right.” However, it wasn’t until I lost my father this past year that I fully understood why Dad was so strict and why he worked so hard. You see, my Dad was in an orphanage until he was 18 years old and had to fight, literally, to survive and to eat. He never wanted that kind of life for his children, and he did whatever he could to give his family a better life. I am grateful that I had done the work to release the anger so I could move on to a more substantive relationship with my Dad in his final years.
In his recent release called Forgiveness, Matt West closes with the line “Help me now to give what you gave to me… forgiveness.” Sounds like the perfect prayer for all of us to ask our Heavenly Father on a regular basis; to help us to forgive as He has forgiven us when we least deserved it. If we don’t, it is us who are punished as we carry the anger and devastation around with us all of our lives, preventing us from growing and moving closer to our Lord and Savior.