“I didn’t want to hang out with you because you were kind of a bummer to be around.”
I can feel the scar where those words stabbed into me ten years ago. I had gone through an awful season of depression and was finally coming out of the tunnel and into the light. I was at a place to start confronting everything that I didn’t have the energy or emotional stamina to deal with while enduring that dark night of the soul. So I asked my close friend, the friend that I had invested much into, why she bailed on me the night that we were supposed to go to a concert that I had been looking forward to seeing. Well, the day that she bailed, she told me that she’d rather watch TV with another friend instead of going to the concert that she had agreed to attend with me. She didn’t even bother to make up a good excuse. She just bailed for something and someone more appealing. The anger and hurt from that rejection was difficult enough. I still tried to make excuses for my friend though. Maybe she didn’t realize that I was going through a tough time. I’ve always been the steady one. Perhaps she couldn’t see past what I was supposed to be. After confronting with my question of why, I realized that she did know what was going on. And she didn’t care. It about sent me through the roof.
The closeness that I had with this friend developed from discovering a big secret about her, one of those big, nasty sin secrets that ruins reputations. Just a few other people knew this secret, and we were expected to bear it. She would put us in situations where we felt obligated to make excuses for her. I struggled with how someone could choose to be entangled in something so wrong all while knowing that it was wrong. I was angry at the injustice, but wanted to protect the integrity of my friend, deserved or not. I hurt for her while watching her make bad decisions. I wanted to love her like Jesus, but despite a lifetime of church and Bible study, I wasn’t quite sure how to put that concept into practice.
Being only in our late teens/early 20s, we were ill prepared, still children in many ways. The sin that started in my friend seeped into the rest of our close-knit group. Outbursts of anger, snide remarks, passive aggressiveness, pride, efforts to control and manipulate each other, and constant tension became our way of life. Soon enough, things fell apart. Always the loyalist, I had gone down with the ship and now I was in the middle of the ocean surrounded by the wreckage, gasping for air, and praying for a lifeline. Eventually we all washed up on shore, alive, but not healthy.
Forgiveness was the most crucial part of healing, but also the most difficult. I would think that I had forgiven her, but then something would trigger and I’d discover anger and bitterness still in my heart. The process would have to begin again. Yet, how do you forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t seem to care?
Peter might have been going through a frustrating experience with someone when he asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Perhaps Peter thought that seven would be a generous number. But Jesus upped the number considerably. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Then He launches into the parable about the merciful king and the unforgiving servant. The king goes to settles his accounts with his servants, but one cannot pay up. So he begs for mercy and more time and the king has pity on him and forgives his debts. Then that servant turns to his fellow servant and demands he repay what he owes him. When the other servant pleads for patience and more time, the servant who was given mercy by the king refuses to forgive his fellow servant. When the king finds out, it doesn’t end well for that unmerciful servant. (Matthew 18: 21-35).
We know that Jesus took His own words seriously when He practiced the greatest act of forgiveness on the cross. Mocked, beaten, spat upon, humiliated, and murdered, He could have fought back. He could have demanded that the angels come down and assist. He could have performed great, miraculous acts and put all of His accusers to shame. He could have risen from the grave angry and ready to take vengeance on anyone who acted out against Him. But that’s not what He did. During the most traumatic event of His life, Jesus cried out with compassion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) They were not asking for forgiveness. They felt no remorse in that moment. Instead, they cast lots for His belongings.
When reading the parables and examining the life of Jesus, we have to resist the urge to put ourselves in the high spots, meaning seeing ourselves as the one in the story who has been sinned against and forgives, or the one who rises above adversity and temptation, or seeing ourselves as Jesus Himself. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, we are more likely to be the unmerciful servant than the righteous king. At the cross we are the part of the mocking crowd, the soldiers beating Him and casting lots for His stuff, and the thieves on crosses beside Him. We’re the one who denied Him multiple times after promising to never do such a thing. We’re the ones who couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray. We’re the one who doubted.
If He who knew no sin can forgive the sinners, then we sinners ought to be able to forgive each other. It is contended that the term “Christian” was coined as a derogatory term meaning “little Christ” to mock those who followed the teachings of Jesus. However, that is exactly what we are to be. Once we realize that the forgiveness of our sin carried a hefty cost for our Merciful King, we can then attempt to walk in His footsteps, forgiving the debts of our fellow servants who do wrong against us. With thankfulness and grace, we can let go of the poison of bitterness that infects our relationships to provide healing for ourselves and others. We are called to cover the small cost of forgiveness because of that large price that was paid for us.