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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Forgive As The Lord Forgave You

Second Sunday After Christmas

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

Major Walter Reder was an officer in the Nazi occupation forces controlling northern Italy during World War II. When the Allies overran Italy and “liberated” it, Major Reder was captured and imprisoned. After 25 years behind bars, Major Reder requested a pardon so that he could return to Germany for his last years.

Italian justice officials considering his request, ruled that his plea would be granted only if the survivors of the villages in which Major Reder directed the massacre of over 1,800 civilians were to vote in favor of giving their old enemy forgiveness.

The Major decided to try. At the first town, Marzabotto, 288 survivors showed up at the polls. Six favored forgiveness. Two weeks later the villagers of Vinca and San Terenza Monti flooded the polls. And not one – not one – voted for forgiveness.

Would you have forgiven him? Could you have forgiven a man who had administrated the deaths of hundreds of your friends and neighbors? Or is that too great an evil for human forgiveness? If so, how large would your forgiveness come? For small sins only? Or medium-sized iniquities?

But why ask for sizes? Too often we forgive only when the injury is small enough to be forgotten, or overlooked, or simply avoided. So we seldom forgive! Not really. We avoid it like the plague. Not by outright denials, saying, “I’ll never forgive that man,” but by playing games. Games we play in phony forgiveness. Games that provide bargain pardons. Shortcuts that bypass the pain of genuine forgiving.

You say you don’t play games in phony forgiveness? If you don’t, that’s wonderful! Maybe I’m the only one here who’s been guilty of playing any of these games? But then again, maybe I’m not the only one. Let’s look at some of them and see.

Game one in phony forgiveness: Playschool. It’s players say, “Yes, I’ll forgive, but first I’ll teach him a thing or two.” “Of course I’ll forgive, but first he’s got to know how much he’s hurt me.”

The benefits of the game? It lets the player postpone forgiving. It gives him a way of getting even with the other person in a subtle way.

Some people do it in the way they accept another’s apology, using the moment when the other person is vulnerable to rub some salt into the wound. “Of course I’ll forgive you – even though you’ll never know how much you hurt me.”

“Teaching a thing or two first” is not forgiveness! It’s either a demand for justice or an attempt at revenge! Like the dentist who hung up the phone, laughing. “What was that all about?” his secretary asked. “Remember the plumber we called when our heat was off last winter – the guy who made us wait and freeze for two days? Well, he just called for help with a broken tooth. I’m letting him wait for three days!”

Forgiveness is not a game of playschool. It’s not a form of “teaching another” it’s a way of “accepting the other!” Once we start using it as a school, it soon degenerates to a “take that… and that… and that” to show him what’s what.

But forgiveness is a gift. A free gift of love. A gift isn’t given to someone who’s earned it. If they’ve earned it, it’s a payment, not a gift. A gift is given to an undeserving person, because of the giver’s love.

Jesus didn’t play school with forgiveness. At the place of the skull, He was brutally handled, thrown to the cross beam, nailed to it and jerked up into the excruciating hanging torture of crucifixion. And He prayed, again and again, “Father, forgive them!”

Game two in false forgiveness: Monopoly. “I’ll forgive,” the players say, “after he’s made it right.” “Yes, I’ll forgive, but when he’s proven himself to me, when it’s clear that he’s truly sorry, when it’s obvious that he’s repented.

The benefits of the game? You can justify all sorts of unforgiving attitudes by saying, “Until he’s made a good apology, I don’t need to be loving and accepting. And best of all benefits, you can quote Jesus to justify yourself. Didn’t Jesus say, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him”? Yes, He did, but check the context – the verses before and after. Don’t cause anyone to sin, He said as a preface, and in following, He said, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Seven times in one day! Pretty good evidence that he’s not truly repentant. And then he’s got the “chutzpah” to come back asking you for forgiveness every hour. Yet “you forgive him,” says Jesus. No game playing there!

Another time Jesus took it even further. Peter asked Him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” (Matt. 18:21)

The real problem with playing Monopoly in forgiveness is that it’s really another demand for repayment. The person who demands justice or revenge is unforgiving in heart, and the great forgiver won’t be able to forgive him. Or so Jesus said!

Game three in phony forgiveness: Charades, Let’s Pretend. “Yes, I’ll forgive,” its players say, “we’ll just act like it never happened.”

The benefits of the game? It lets you avoid the real hurt between you and the other person. It lets you deny all your anger without going through the painful process of working it out.

The problem is, the hurt and anger is still there! The barrier of resentment still stands. Anger can’t be simply avoided. It has to be faced, confessed and expressed, and that’s no game of pretense. And the final difficulty of this game is it’s impossible. We can’t pretend our troubles away.

If the injured party demands justice, he turns his anger on the person who injured him and obtains satisfaction. But if the injured party forgives, he consciously bears his own anger and sets the offender free. And in so doing, he pays the cost of forgiving. All forgiveness is costly. Forgiving us cost God Calvary!!

In every act of evil and injury, someone must pay. No debt is ever cancelled without someone bearing the loss. So it is in forgiveness. Someone always pays. Either the offender pays – that’s justice. Or the offended substitutes himself in payment – that’s forgiveness. That’s what God did in Christ on the cross!

And teaching us to pray to our Heavenly Father, Jesus said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then He added, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14,15)

Game four in false forgiveness: King of the Mountain. “Of course I’ll forgive,” the player says. “Why, he couldn’t have hurt me. It was nothing at all. And who does he think he is to come apologizing to me? His acts mean nothing to me!”

The benefits of the game? It gives a person the safety of withdrawal from a painful situation. It offers him the superior feelings of pride. It lets him put the other person down.

But when we play King of the Mountain by saying, “You couldn’t have hurt me” – we’re still hurting! We just won’t admit it so we don’t have to deal with our anger. Instead, we retreat in goodness – or haughty superiority.

Forgiveness between people happens truly between equals. A truly forgiving person offers acceptance and love out of an awareness that he too is in constant need of God’s forgiveness.

For forgiveness to be complete, it must be both offered and accepted. But the forgiver has control over only one side of that. He can be a healing force, trying to mend the breach and close the wound, but he can’t bring the other person to acceptance. He can only love him toward it.

In today’s Epistle lesson, the Apostle Paul describes what forgiving should be: “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

That is forgiveness. As Jesus Christ gives it. Costly forgiveness. It costs the forgiver exactly what the hurt is and what it has done. It asks the forgiver to substitute himself for the offending party, and bear his own anger at the evil and at the evildoer. That’s what God did in Christ on the cross!

Unconditional forgiveness. That’s not forgiveness on human terms, but with the love shown us in Jesus at Calvary.

Healing forgiveness – that seeks to restore right relationships with the one who has broken the friendship. That’s what Jesus accomplished at Calvary.

That’s how the Lord forgave us. And the Bible tells us, putting all games aside, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”


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