We’re going to hear a lot about forgiveness this Sunday. In our First Lesson, we will hear the conclusion of the story of Joseph and his brothers, when the brothers beg Joseph for forgiveness for the wrong they did him. This happens to be one of my favorite Bible stories. It’s filled with drama, action, and emotion and it brings humanity to life. (If you’ve never read the story straight through, you can find it here: Genesis Chapters 37-50. I recommend it!). When the brothers finally approach Joseph for forgiveness, you can hear the fear in their voices: “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” You can also feel their relief when Joseph reassures them: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God?” I’m struck by the fact that Joseph uses those words: “Do not be afraid,” the same words Jesus uses so often to reassure his followers.
In our Gospel reading, Peter tries to get a handle on practicing forgiveness by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. He ventures a guess – should I forgive as many as seven times? – probably figuring that seven times should cover it. But Jesus responds, as usual, with an extraordinarily large number: “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus then tells the parable of the unforgiving servant who owed his master 10,000 talents, an absurdly huge amount of money that would take 60 million days for a laborer to pay off. We shouldn’t miss this masterful hyperbole Jesus uses to make his point. There is no way on earth this servant could ever repay such an enormous debt, and yet his debt is forgiven.
Why is it so hard for us to imagine the enormity God’s love and forgiveness? I wonder if it is because we tend to project on God our own harsh and unforgiving attitudes, or if, like Joseph’s brothers, we fear the response we’ll get when we admit we have done something wrong.
Forgiveness – and seeking forgiveness – is hard. At times, it’s just not possible…at least not yet. But we can nevertheless try to cultivate a softer attitude, a gentler way, and offer a little grace, because God’s grace and forgiveness for us is beyond measure.