490 Times of Love

Sep 17 2017

490 TIMES OF LOVE

Do you remember what Joseph’s brothers did to him? They did not like his first dream in which eleven sheaves of wheat bowed to one, and another dream in which eleven stars bowed to one. So one day, when he was sent by his father to join his brothers, they saw him coming and conspired to kill him. They threw Joseph into a pit, presumably a dried-up well. Instead of killing him, they sold him into slavery in Egypt for twenty pieces of silver. His brothers took the coat that Joseph wore, covered it with goat’s blood and convinced his father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph, at the age of seventeen, was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken away to a distant land, never to presumably see them or his father again. If you were Joseph, how would you feel? Betrayed? Hurt? Lonely? Scared? And as the months progressed and you realized that you really were alone, would you be inclined to forgive and forget? Forget – that you had been sold into slavery? Forgive? I think the opposite would happen – that the inclination would be to become bitter over having been betrayed.

Years later his brothers needed to travel to Egypt because they were starving and encountered Joseph, who by that time, was ruling over Egypt. Once Jacob died, it certainly was understandable that Joseph’s brothers thought, “Boy, are we in for it.” But Joseph had mercy on them. He not only forgave them, but told them that he would provide for them and their children. His love for them overcame the bad decision that they had made years ago. I like to think that Joseph realized that people and circumstances change, and that it was now his responsibility to take the high road and forgive and help. Joseph told his brothers: “Have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones. In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:21)

In today’s Gospel, Peter is curious regarding how many times we should forgive someone. Jesus’ answer: not seven, but seventy times seven.” (Mt. 18:21-22)

Does Jesus really mean that we should count? Of course not! What he means is that we should forgive not just once; not just twice; not ten or twenty or thirty times, but EVERY time that we perceive that we have been wronged. People can be cruel to one another – sometimes not even realizing that what they did or omitted to do hurt another. Sometimes the hardest task we have as Christians is not to love, but to forgive. Jesus made no distinction regarding under what circumstances we should forgive; he just said forgive.

To emphasize his point, Jesus told the story of the unrepentant slave – the slave who came begging at the feet of his master to be forgiven of his debt. His master relented and forgave the debt. The same slave turned around and threw a person who owed him money into prison until the debt to him could be paid. Other slaves, thinking this to be unkind, told the master. Ultimately the master threw the unrepentant slave into prison and had him tortured because he showed no mercy to another after the master had shown mercy to him.

Do you really think that people do not act like the unrepentant slave in today’s society? The rules are always neutral. But there are many who think the rules do not apply to them, only to others. These are the people who cry for vengeance when they are wronged. But when they act in an evil fashion towards others believe that they are wholly justified in their actions and should not be punished. We have all seen situations like this. And whether the rules deal with sexual harassment, breaking a law, or cheating on taxes, the rules always apply to someone else. It’s “not sorry I did it, but sorry I got caught.” These people will not forgive, but expect always to be forgiven. They expect the rules to be enforced for everyone else, but not for them.

When the Milwaukee Public Schools, years ago, instituted a grade point average requirement for the first time for athletes, it was announced at the beginning of the school year, and parents and students were told that it would go into effect after the first nine week grading period. When athletes did not make the grade point average and were told that they would be ineligible, they asked “Why?” When they were asked if they knew about the rule and when it would go into effect, they answered, “Yes,” but added, “but I didn’t think it would apply to me.”

I am not saying that we should not have laws or a legal system. Legal systems exist to maintain peace and keep chaos to a minimum in civilized societies. I am saying that for most of us the wrongs that we endure will have nothing to do with a legal system. They come about as a result of human interaction that has gone awry. And it is that human interaction that so often has the potential for hurt feelings, bitterness, and hate because of perceived wrongs. As much as we ought to try to forgive others for their wrongs against us, we ought to try not to wrong others in the first place. Jesus held people accountable, but Jesus then had mercy, and forgave everyone. I’m not sure that we are capable as humans of that depth of love, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

There is no distinction before God. God loves and forgives the sinner as well as the saint. And God loves and forgives those of us who think we are saints as much as God forgives those whom WE think of as sinners.

Time and again we hear stories of people who have harbored bitterness and hate in their hearts for something that someone else has done to them. Ultimately, their inability to forgive ends up weighing down so heavily on their souls, that they are miserable. And it is only when they realize that forgiveness will lift the weight do they start to heal. A lack of forgiveness will hurt and harm the one who is unable to forgive far more than the original wrong, and will do absolutely nothing to the one who has wronged us.

As far as people getting away with their evil actions towards others, I like to think that karma is active in this world. I like to think that those who are unrepentant of their actions and continue to be nasty to others will suffer because of it – maybe not in the same way, but eventually will suffer. Some think that karma comes in a next life, but karma for those who are really evil, starts to take over in this lifetime.

Why do we have a responsibility to forgive? We were all created differently before God, but we are all loved by God. We were not created to judge those who believe differently from us or to harbor resentment in our hearts for wrongs that may have occurred decades ago.

We do not live to conform to the whims of others, nor should we expect others to conform to our whims and fancies. We ARE expected to love others and help them as God would. We ARE expected to show them compassion and mercy when it is called for. We are called by God to forgive and that is probably the hardest thing for most people to do. Amen.