Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
- Matthew 18:21-35
”I’ll forgive . . . but l’ll never forget. We say and hear that so much that it’s easy to shrug it off as ‘only natural.’ That’s the problem! It is the most natural response we can expect. Not supernatural. It also can result in tragic consequences.
In his book Great Church Fights, Leslie B. Flynn tells of two unmarried sisters who lived together, but because of an unresolved disagreement over an insignificant issue, they stopped speaking to each other (one of the inescapable results of refusing to forget). Since they were either unable or unwilling to move out of their small house, they continued to use the same rooms, eat at the same table, use the same appliances, and sleep in the same room . . . all separately . . . without one word. A chalk line divided the sleeping area into two halves, separating doorways as well as the fireplace. Each would come and go, cook and eat, sew and read without ever stepping over into her sister’s territory. Through the black of the night, each could hear the deep breathing of the other, but because both were unwilling to take the first step toward forgiving and forgetting the silly offense, they coexisted for years in grinding silence.
“Refusing to forgive and forget leads to other tragedies, like monuments of spite. How many churches split (often over nitpicking issues), then spin off into another direction, fractured, splintered, and blindly opinionated?”
- Charles R. Swindoll, The Finishing Touch (devotion for Week 26, Thursday)
I had two unmarried aunts who lived together. In my college years, I was a pall bearer at each of their funerals, maybe dying about a year apart. One was excessively overweight, and the other was excessively thin. I think their names were Aunt Beatrice (Bea) and Aunt Emma Lou. I never heard them say a cross word toward the other. Come to think of it, it was always quiet when we visited them. Could it be …
Just kidding. I did have the two madden aunts, but I doubt if they had a feud and I never saw any chalk lines in their home.
Thinking of the churches that split, I think it was our son’s piano teacher who told us about a local Presbyterian who started five different churches in the area, all within a few miles of each other. She praised him as being a great spreader of the Gospel. It got very quiet in the car as we were going from one church to another. Then, the piano teacher, who was also our choir director at our church at the time, asked me what was on my mind.
I said, “That Presbyterian you mentioned before. He was either a great spreader of the Gospel or he had a hard time getting along with folks.” I received a stern lecture from my wife when we got home.
God washes our sins as white as snow. Have you ever washed a really nasty stain and there is a shadow of the stain that remains? With God there is no shadow, so should we not treat our neighbors in the same manner?
I know someone who bragged about always forgiving, but she would never forget. In her seventies, she walked the streets of town reminding folks of the horrible things that they had done to her in grade school, you know, sixty years before. It didn’t seem like she had forgiven anyone, but no harm was done since most of the folks that she accused couldn’t remember who she was. Who knows, with her bad eyesight, she may have accused the wrong person.
When I called my sister a few weeks ago, I was talking about my feet and then for some reason, unknown to me then and now, I started talking about my teeth. My niece, with the phone on speaker, with her razor wit and equally razor tongue, asked me if I had forgotten where I was in the story.
I replied that in the midst of the story telling, one of my teeth gave a throbbing pain, thus the word “teeth” came out instead of “feet,” but then I said, “Really. I forget what you asked. Could you repeat your question? … Forget? Forget what?! … What do you mean by teeth? The story was about feet. … Unless you’re talking about hoof in mouth disease.” (I just added that last line – Ooooh, how I hate thinking of a good comeback several days later.)
It’s best not to hold grudges for very long. As I read the story of the two sisters above, I wondered if either sister, near the end, could remember why she was feuding with her sister?
As usual, my “A Thought on …” series raise questions rather than delving deep into the topic. Either that or I forgot what I was going to write next.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
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