Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”(Matthew 18:21, 22 NIV)
Peter had been traveling with Jesus and eleven disciples—so many personalities, habits and moods to contend with daily. Some are flexible and spontaneous, above board and honest, like him…or so he thinks.
Others are quiet, thoughtful, and slow to move and speak. They question everything and seem resistant, even critical of anything Peter says. Peter is learning from the Master, but he’s struggling with the brothers, especially one. And this time Peter runs to Jesus, tired of forgiving over and over. The guy just doesn’t care about Peter’s feelings.
Downton Abby, a famous PBS series, just played episode seven, where Mary, the older sister brings pain to her younger sister, Edith, once again. She humiliates her in front of her family and betrothed catalyzing a break-up.
Edith lashes out and calls Mary on her horrible behavior. Hurt, she flees to another city. The rift between the sisters is strong. Yes, Mary is remorseful but sees no way to fix the trouble she has caused her younger sibling. She is not a people pleaser. Nor does she like to admit fault. It is easier to wait, and in time….
In a surprising turn of events to Mary’s benefit, Edith forgives Mary—unasked. She is not ruled by pride. Always the humble one, she closes the breech by coming to Mary. Longing to bridge the gap, Edith declares the importance of keeping their bond, despite their innate differences. Their upbringing and family history, their parents and Granny, their deceased sister and children—no one else could know the nuances of their family, the way they both understood.
Isn’t it interesting? It seems in life, the people hardest to forgive are the people closest to us. A woman married fifty years once stood in a church foyer and stated how she made it—“breathe forgiveness.”
Sounds a lot like seventy times seven.
Jesus knew the value of forgiveness and our human feelings.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27 NIV)
A blessing for a curse? It sounds paradoxical. Jesus knows forgiveness is a decision and love is active. He knows, as we do, we all need His forgiveness for our wrongs and we rely on His love and mercy to cover our mistakes. He paid a price for us to be forgiven, and expects us to be merciful to others in turn—to sacrifice pride and judgment, even pain—and choose to forgive. It is never easy. There are depths to pain and forgiveness like the depth of the ocean, the deeper the pain, the darker the water. But forgiveness releases the victim as well, from misery and hate.
Matthew 5:45 reveals when we forgive we are behaving like children of our Father in Heaven. We bring God honor through forgiveness. We release others from guilt.
Yes, sometimes the people closest to us, spouses, siblings, children, parents—can seem like the enemies Jesus said to love. Their words pierce deeper because they are the closest to our heart. They are the ones we have decided to trust with our thoughts and emotions. We want to believe they are always safe people to live with and love us as we love them.
“My daughter is breaking my heart,” a tearful nurse erupted as she arrived at work. Her fourteen-year-old had said goodbye with the words, “I hate you.”
It’s hard to love and feel loved when actions and words flip day to day, or week to week. Love and hate, blessings and curses. The wheel spins inside the brain and words fly off at alarming rates sometimes. There is an enemy of our soul who loves to surprise us with a hit, when we least expect it. Ambushed, we can feel like we are battling something unseen. We are.
Mary, was in pain and inner conflict when she callously opened Edith to humiliation. Those closest to us, in their pain, can cause ours. “Wounded people, wound people.” And those with deeper wounds are often not aware what they are doing. They are minions of emotion and confusion, creating crazy circles of crisis for themselves and others.
Enemies may come from horrible bosses or backstabbing, burden laying peers. I have prayed Jesus’ words to cope with an unsavory work environment. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35, 36 NIV)
Attempting to do my job clear-headed without having to constantly address the virus of emotions running in the background, spurred by comments and actions unrelated to our job positions, I prayed to love them.
Daily I had to shake the bird nest of bitterness trying to camp in my mind. “You can’t keep a bird from landing on your head, but you can keep him from building a nest.”
Just this morning a friend told me her work has improved. “I decided to forgive my boss, carte blanche. I just don’t let it get to me anymore.”
There is power in forgiveness, not just for us, but for those around us. We are not expecting them to be something they cannot be. Because we are praying, we are not as easily disappointed or frustrated by their behavior.
Our unseen enemy, Satan, is out to divide—to bring pain and build walls with pride and animosity. Hatred is the opposite of love. If we give into hatred we cannot do the good Jesus asks of us. We cannot walk worthy of our calling as believers or help those we love, because we are not able to use the greatest power given to us by God—the power of love.
Love is stronger than hate. God’s way is stronger than the way of the world. He can empower us through the Holy Spirit to forgive, because we are attached to the Vine. The Vine is Jesus who hung on a tree and died for our sins, while forgiving those who drove the nails into his hands on the cross.
Today He is alive, and the power to love pours through His veins. Apart from Him we can do nothing. But with Him, we can choose to forgive—simply by asking Jesus, the One who knows how best to help us.