Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Paying it forward


Forgiveness is tricky business. While it is a basic concept in the faith, it is one often misunderstood. One time Peter asked Jesus how many times someone should forgive. Is seven times enough? No.
Jesus told a story of a king who wished to settle accounts. He summoned a servant who owed a sum so large that it could never be repaid. Yet the servant asked the king to be patient with him and promised to repay the debt.
Jesus said, “The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan” (Matthew 18:27).
The newly forgiven servant did not “pay forward” that compassion and forgiveness.
Instead, he confronted a second servant, one who owed him a small amount of money. When that servant asked him for more time, the request was denied. Moreover, he had that servant arrested and placed in debtors’ prison until he could get the small amount owed to him by that servant.
When the king learned that the servant whom he had forgiven had caused the imprisonment of the second servant, he was furious. The king ordered him also delivered to debtors’ prison.
Jesus concluded this story with the warning that we, too, will be treated in the same way if we fail to forgive.
Have you ever wondered why the first servant failed to extend forgiveness to his fellow servant?
He was not honest with himself. He failed to acknowledge his own impossible situation. He had deceived himself into thinking that he could repay that massive debt if given more time. Time does not always heal all wounds.
That unforgiving servant also mistreated his peer because he did not acknowledge his own role in building the mountain of debt he was called to repay. Asking for more time was a way to avoid admitting that he had been wrong. He had convinced himself that he was right and, given more time, he would prove it. Self-justification has limitless power to hide us from reality.
Finally, his belief system did not have the capacity to grasp the magnitude of grace. He disregarded the actions of his master because he did not understand compassion and forgiveness. He heard only what his belief system allowed him to hear — he believed he had more time. Defective
beliefs lead to destructive actions.
When you are not honest with yourself, when you fail to acknowledge the wrong you have done, when your belief system fails to account for kindness and benevolence, you may act in hateful, destructive ways toward others.
People who do not believe they can be forgiven will not be able to experience forgiveness. And those who cannot experience forgiveness do not have the capacity to extend forgiveness. The prison of unforgiveness torments those held in its chains.
Do you believe that you can be forgiven?
Who do you need to forgive?
What next steps should you take today?


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