I just returned from providing emergency critical incident services to a plant where its employees were told that their site was closing and their jobs were moving out of state.
The initial response of the people was shock, disbelief, anger and mistrust. Many of these highly skilled workers have served their company for over 25 years, They are machinists and engineers who design, mode and produce medical devices like heart pacemakers.
Jesus was no stranger to the fact that bad things happen to good people. In fact, this often happens more than once. So what’s should our response be? Initially, no matter how pious or unholy we think some people deserve a watery grave. Nine times out of ten, we know the names of the people who cause us the greatest hurts in life—most of the time they are also people who at one time or another we called our friends and who we may well call “friend” again in the future!
The probability that we will be hurt by one another even in the community of faith is high and ongoing. Bummer!
But Jesus makes clear that it can never be for the sake of revenge alone that we confront those who hurt us. Our hope is restoration that the offender repents, but our next job is to get off our high horse of confrontation and forgive this person, letting the matter drop for good.
What’s more, that posture of forgiveness needs to be true even for repeat offenders who do the same thing to you over and over and over. And let’s be honest, the people whom we know and maybe even love who hurt us tend to inflict the same hurt repeatedly across the years. “Why is she ALWAYS like that?” we ask about a mother-in-law, a sister, a friend, a coworker. And the little adverb “always” is apt: those who criticize you for your weight, for your clothing, for the kind of car you drive, for your work habits.
“Keep on forgiving," Jesus says. But the disciples reply, “Fine, Lord. We can do that just as soon as you increase our faith.” We know, I think, where that request came from. There is more than a hint of an attitude of “Yeah right!” behind this. Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh. Easy for HIM to talk. As someone once said, God forgives wholesale but most of us muddle through on the retail level of forgiveness. God is a five-star general of forgiveness whereas the rest of us are mere lance corporals.
But Jesus doesn’t let it go at that. Instead he reaches for a bit of good old gospel hyperbole—“the smallest faith in the world can tell trees to walk." You’ve got more faith than that right now so don’t go telling me that you don’t have enough in your faith tank to forgive someone seven times in a row.”
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that we realize that we already possess the seeds of forgiveness. So forgive corporate, forgive your neighbors, forgive your in-laws and let your faith forgive those who have hurt you as God has forgiven us.