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Lent for Everyone: Week 3, Saturday (120317)

Lent For Everyone Reading Plan

This is Saturday of the third week of Lent. The reading is Matthew 18, with a focus on 21-35. (If you want to listen, scroll to the bottom of that page for the audio links.)

Speaking of the parable of the unforgiving servant, Tom Wright says “There are at least three levels at which we should read this sharp and startling story. And at least three levels at which we should apply it to our lives, not least our lives in church. . . The story he tells takes us straight to the first level of meaning. If you yourself have been forgiven, then your gratitude for that ought to make you ready to forgive others.

I haven’t disagreed with Tom Wright much at all in this series, either pastorally or theologically. And I don’t disagree with him theologically here, but I do disagree with him pastorally. He makes this forgiveness Jesus calls for out to be over essentially trivial matters – the driver who cuts you off, the church-goer whose out of tune singing irritates you. But as a person and a pastor I believe that the forgiveness Jesus desires of us is much more significant than that: forgiving the person who really hurt you, forgiving the one who really disappointed you or even neglected or brow-beat or perhaps even abused you. In marriage this is forgiveness when your spouse has sinned grievously. At church this is forgiveness when someone has truly left undone what should have been done to rescue you. This seventy-times-seven forgiveness is essential because it is these things, not traffic or dissonance that really batter our soul

Wright gets closer to that as he goes on: “Underneath that, there is a second level. My wife and I once had long conversations with a student who found herself in- capable of feeling God’s love. She believed in Jesus; she had prayed and read the Bible; but she couldn’t feel a thing. She wanted to know God’s love the way her friends said they did. But it wasn’t happening. Eventually, as we talked about her life, it all came out. She hated her parents. She resented the sort of people they were, the way they’d treated her. So she had closed up her heart. Where there should have been an open readiness for God’s love, there was a steel wall. It was as though you cut off the telephone line to stop certain people ringing you up and then grumbled because you couldn’t phone your best friend. Forgiveness and love are a two-way street. The same part of you, spiritually, both gives and receives. If you shut down the part labelled ‘forgiveness’, you shut down the part labelled ‘forgiveness’ — in both directions.”

Wrights third level has to do with Jesus’ choice of’seventy times seven’ as the number of times we should forgive. This prophetically significant number (See Daniel 9:24) told God’s people how many years it would be before transgression, sin and iniquity were finally dealt with – when Jesus came.’

“And Jesus? Well, Jesus announced that the moment had come. He was the Great Jubilee in person. His entire mission was about implementing God’s age-old plan to deal with the evil that had infected the whole world. Forgiveness wasn’t an incidental feature of his kingdom-movement. It was the name of the game. Those of us who find ourselves drawn into that movement must learn how to play that game, all the time. It’s what we’re about. It’s what God is about.”

Just as a change-up on the music video theme, here is an interview with Bishop Desmond Tutu on forgiveness (in the context of South African apartheid): Forgiveness is the Key It starts a little slowly but the end is great.