Our pastor, Father H, takes his shepherding seriously. So when he suggested a series of scriptural readings to ponder as part of our 2013 New Year’s resolutions, I was intrigued. Now, I’ve heard and read these scriptures hundreds of times before, but like most things you hear often, I rarely thought about them in a deep and meaningful way. I plan to take that opportunity now.
Let’s start with Matthew 18: 21-22 — “Then Peter approaching asked Him, ‘Lord if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” Now, I can’t help picturing some poor schmuck repeating, “I forgive you!” over and over endlessly while the guy who sinned against him (and who, let’s face it, has already shown a lack of fundamental respect for the guy he sinned upon) restrains himself from pummeling the first guy in the kisser. Practically speaking, it seems a little masochistic: Somebody does you wrong, perhaps repeatedly, and you keep turning the other cheek. Sounds to me like someone’s gonna end up with a severely scarred cheek.
It’s just the opposite, however. By forgiving (and forgiving and forgiving), we are doing ourselves good. We are letting go of anger, hurt and frustration, leaving our souls in a state of perfect ease. It is self-help at its finest. Moreover, it’s an option open to anyone. It might take two to tango, but it only takes one to forgive.
A few weeks back, during our journey out to California to visit family, our car was side-swiped by a gigantic RV at a gas station. The driver of the RV proceeded to drive away as if nothing had happened. We managed to track the vehicle down and block his getaway. There I stood, in the middle of the street, stupidly playing David against the RV’s Goliath, while watching expletives form on the lips of the driver’s wife.
I’ll admit it; I was angry. And my anger was not ameliorated even after the driver agreed to pull over and talk to us about the accident, or when he begged us not to report the accident to our insurance agent. Or when, after my husband told him, “These things happen,” the driver observed, “I wish they didn’t happen so often.”
I’m ashamed of my reaction now. I forgive the driver and his wife, and even their yippy, unfriendly dog. I hope they forgive me. Maybe they really didn’t know they’d hit us, much like a rhinoceros stepping on a butterfly. Maybe they were afraid their licenses would be taken away. They were an older couple. Heaven knows, it won’t be too many years before my husband and I are in their shoes. Our reaction time won’t be as quick; our sense of our vehicle’s size and capabilities will be perhaps a bit more dim.
So I’m going to say, “I forgive you,” over and over, as we write the check for the deductible, as we drive a crappy loaner while our car’s in the shop, even as our insurance rate goes up, as it very well may. And I’m going to ask for forgiveness just as many times, even as I realize that he-who-sinned-against-us might not hear it. At least it will be out there in the universe. Part of the ozone. Friendly pollution.
That’s the power of forgiveness. It’s like laying down a burden. I’m not angry anymore. My soul feels lighter. That Jesus, He knew what He was talking about. Seventy-seven times over.