Here’s a story that should be familiar to most Christians:
Jesus annointed by a sinful woman
“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” “
–Luke 7:36-50 NIV
Extravagent, loving forgiveness. Who among us has not craved that at one time or another? I know of very few people, including me, who don’t have a skeleton tucked away in their closet somewhere who feel that they can never, ever be forgiven for that very same skeleton. Yet, that’s what they desire most, absolution and forgiveness. How do we achieve it? The gospels are very clear on this. Let’s take a look at another familiar story…
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “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-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 talents 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.”
“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 denarii. 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 you 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 greatly distressed 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 turned 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 from your heart.”
What was the first servant’s problem? Having been forgiven a debt so large he could never have expected to pay it back in his lifetime he then refused to extend a smaller amount of mercy to a fellow servant. Where was his relief? his gratitude?
Consider this C.S. Lewis quote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Who of us feels that we don’t deserve forgiveness? Who of us refuses to forgive ourselves, certain that we don’t deserve it? Is that out of a misplaced sense of humilty? I believe refusing to forgive ourselves is a supreme act of arrogance. My Christian faith is based upon Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins. If Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins why do I refuse to forgive myself? Why do you refuse to forgive yourself?
There’s a song playing on Christian radio these days, one of the lines is, “You refuse forgiveness like it’s something to be earned.” (Unspoken – Who You Are) How many of us can relate to that? We feel we are undeserving of forgiveness and push it away, refuse to accept it. Why do we do that? If God forgives us why don’t we forgive ourselves? And what’s up with refusing to forgive others? How many times have you heard (or worse yet, said) “I will never forgive him/her for that”? But here’s the thing… forgiveness is not all about the other person. Forgiveness is all about you, you and what takes up residence in your heart. I don’t know about you but I do not want unforgiveness taking up residence in my heart.