Matthew 18:15-20

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.”

Lina Thompson
Seattle, WA

One of the disciples poses a question that is essentially asking, “How much do we really have to forgive each other?” Jesus’ response, as was his habit, came in the form of a parable. A servant begs for mercy from the king. He asks for patience in paying back his debt. The king takes pity and says, “Don’t worry about it. Debt paid.” Boom.

The moral of Jesus’ story: “You forgive others as much as I forgive you. Don’t hold back. Forgive it all.”

This is how forgiveness works in the economy of the Kingdom.

I wish it worked like that in the world. Heck, I wished it work like that in the Church. But it makes no sense. None at all. Everything in us rebels at the thought of forgiving others that freely — but oh, don’t we wish it would happen for us that way?

The words we pray so well and so often, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” hint at the notion that forgiveness in the world has a direct relationship to our own need for forgiveness from God. This pay-it-forward language sounds beautiful, heavenly and aspirational.

People who both know and remember the extent to which they’ve been forgiven are the ones who make the Church safe for others. They live with humility — and with an awareness of how God’s mercy extends from them to others. Their hearts are open and tender. Imagine what would happen in the world if those “heavenly words” were the status quo for all of us?

This kind of forgiveness is at the core of the Gospel…that’s why it’s so scandalous. It redefines love as something that would dare forgive it all. And it frees us to do the same in the world.

In the Samoan community, we learn this principle of paying it forward, although the order is reversed a little bit. My mother put it like this: “You never know when you are going to need help. So, help all you can now. There will come a day, and people will be there for you when it’s your turn.” She was absolutely right.

In the economy of God, forgiveness follows a similar principle. It is ours each day. It is lavished upon us so that we can lavish that forgiveness on others. Not just to those who need to hear the Good News, but also for those who need to experience these empowering and freeing words: “I forgive you.” I don’t know about you, but I need to hear these words and experience this forgiveness from people in my life — like everyday. These words breathe new life into me…in the same way God’s breath in the book of Genesis created life in the first humans.

On a recent Sunday, I was reflecting on how events in this country reveal a very scary reality — that we are a nation with deep relational problems. I asked a rhetorical question, a little bit out of frustration, “What is going on in the world? What is wrong with us?”

I honestly didn’t expect an answer. But I got one from 12-year old Faye who said, “It’s because everyone is all judgey.” Amen, Faye. That’s exactly the problem.

We have a tendency to mete out judgment, and withhold forgiveness. And, according to this parable, that will not bode well for us. The natural consequence of judgment and unforgiveness is our own demise — as individuals, as communities, as Church.

Rather, our call as believers is to have our hearts moved because of what we know is true…we have been forgiven much. This is where the Incarnation takes root — in the scandalous work of forgiveness.

God has mercy. That’s abundantly clear. Do we?

Lina Thompson
Senior Fellow / Street Psalms
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Seattle, WA