Friday, May 19, 2023

Key to Forgiveness

 Speaking with His disciples, Yeshua warned them sternly regarding being stumbling blocks (literally, “snare”) or the cause for a child to be defiled by their words or actions (see Luke 17:1-2).  Yeshua went on to state that it would be better for anyone who has committed such an act that a millstone be tied around his neck and he would be cast into the sea.

In the course of a day, we generally do not think about who happens to be observing us and our behavior. In other words, there may be ‘children’ around watching when we ‘blow it’, especially our own. Continuing, within the context of the above-mentioned instruction, Yeshua refers to one of those ‘tripping stones’ which may challenge us greatly:  "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,’ forgive him’" (Luke 17:3-4 emphases added). Notice that Yeshua mentions twice the importance of “forgiveness”. This must have been very difficult for the disciples to digest, as they no doubt knew what it felt like to suffer an offense, wound, or hurt inflicted by a ‘brother’ towards others, or towards themselves.

In the first case, when someone misbehaves (“sins”) towards others it says that we are to rebuke them. However, we also remember Yeshua saying that before we do that, we need to check the log in our own eyes (ref. Luke 6:41-42).  But in the second case, when we are the victims of the transgression or abuse, and the offender repents we are to grant forgiveness. At most times, we are able to do so for the first or second time, and then the relationship can be restored.  However, by the time it gets around to the fifth or sixth incident, we may not trust that individual's sincerity, and develop an altogether biased attitude toward them. This is why the disciples turned to Yeshua and asked: “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).  Shortly after (according to the Gospel of Matthew), Yeshua continued to elaborate even more on this topic, when “Peter came and asked to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Yeshua said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21).

Why would Yeshua’s followers ask Him to increase their faith when the topic was forgiveness?  What does faith have to do with forgiveness?  In response to their request, Yeshua actually veered away from the topic of "faith", or its centrality, for "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you'" (Luke 17:6).  In other words, a tiny amount of faith is sufficient for great achievements, but that is not so when it comes to "forgiveness".  Yeshua was about to drive home a point to His disciples, by an example that demonstrates how difficult it would be to forgive seven times or seventyfold (i.e., forgiveness without end). Thus, the question remains, is it faith that is required in order to forgive?  

Yeshua points to the solution that this difficulty presents in the following story of a servant, whose master sent him to plow a field or tend a flock, and who after a hard day’s work was called by this master to dinner.  But, alas, instead of finding a nicely prepared meal waiting for him, the servant was told to wash and change his clothes and proceed to the kitchen in order to prepare a meal for the master.  It is only when the latter finished eating, that the servant was given an opportunity to have his own meal.  This scenario appears to be quite unfair and humiliating.  Did the servant need faith in this situation, or was he simply required to obey?  What was the attitude of his heart when he continued to do what the master required?

Yeshua sums up this example with these words:  "He [the master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done'" (Luke 17:9-10 emphases added). Thus, forgiveness is not based on how we judge a matter as to whether or not someone deserves to be forgiven. We forgive because we were commanded by our Master to do so. Obedience unlocks the key to forgive seventy times seven.

Thus, there is a “faith” message in the above story, as in it Yeshua is also revealing the heart of His Father.  We can be sure that He will forgive us seventy times seven when we come to Him and repent. However, it is not unconditional as Yeshua taught us in His prayer, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  If we have not learned the lesson of obedience, it will be difficult to forgive others as we have been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, and hence we ourselves could become a stumbling block (“snare”) of “unforgiveness” in someone else’s life. 

1 comment:

  1. I like how you have incorporated the different related verses to complete the picture. Thank you for this reminder. Another one I would add to the mix is from I Corinthians 13:5 "[Love]...does not take into account a wrong suffered." One time I read a version that said "is not easily offended". If we are easily offended (or keep a record of wrongs) we will have more chance of seeing something as "sin" in the other person. Perhaps we need to release people from our expectations as much as we need to forgive them? The rest of I Corinthians 13 surely points the way, doesn't it?