Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn the foundations of our faith. this post focuses on forgiveness.
One of the most beautiful stories of forgiveness in the Bible is the story of Joseph. It is a long saga found in Genesis chapters 37-50. For this Corona Sabbath post, Lakewood member Patti Cooksey was asked to write a summary of the story of Joseph. The story is read by Claire Stiles.
We also listen to Matthew 18:21-22, a teaching about forgiveness that is associated with Jesus.
Story of Joseph from Patti
Peter came up and asked Jesus, “When a sister or brother wrongs me, how many times must I forgive? Seven times?”
“No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times; I tell you seventy times seven. . . . “
Reflection from Kim
Forgive. 70 times 7. Here’s a graphic of what 70 times 7 looks like:
Forgive that many times? And the way it is presented in Matthew, you could be forgiving one person that many times, and maybe even for the same transgression. Four hundred and ninety times. Really?
My first reaction is that this is another example of hyperbole, a teaching tool, and a grand statement of the extreme ideal that none of us could ever really be expected to achieve. Sometimes it just seems that Jesus is setting the bar so high who could ever measure up? Who could be that forgiving, or kind, or compassionate, or generous, or understanding? Ok for Jesus, maybe, but hardly realistic for the rest of us.
Is the point here to give us one more thing to need forgiveness for? Forgive me for not being more forgiving. Sorry, God, I haven’t measured up – again. . .
I don’t think so. Here I think the story of Joseph sheds some light. Joseph has every reason to hate his family of origin. To want to do them harm, in retribution, out of vengeance, or simply to get even – justice. He has every justification. There is no reason he should want to help his biological family. Yet, when they come, not recognizing him, he recognizes them and he receives them, helps them, feeds them, forgives them.
All those years in Egypt, Joseph could have been cultivating not only grain for the famine, but his desire for getting even with his brothers who sold him off into slavery. He could have been plotting and waiting for the chance for payback. He could have carried that grudge, harbored that resentment, nursed that vendetta. But evidently, he chose to lay it down. Give it up. Release himself from that burden. Free himself from that hatred. When he sees his brothers, he forgives them. He shows no hesitation. And he is freed.
So in thinking about Jesus and the 70 times 7, maybe the idea here is not to set an unachievable standard but to encourage freedom from the burdens that come with harboring ill feelings, anger, and hostility. These things can be heavy burdens. They can sap energy, and love, and joy. Jesus loves us. He wants the best for us. He wants us to live and love fully and freely. And he knows that holding on to wrongs can get in the way of that. So, he is saying, toss it aside. Give it away. Let go of it. Free yourself from the burden. The word used in Matthew for forgiveness means to send or let off or away. Get rid of it. Create more room in your heart and your life for love and joy and meaningful relationships.
The truth is, all of us are in need of forgiveness in our lives. It is essential. As human beings, we are capable of wrong-doing, of harm, even of great evil. That is our nature. Individually and socially. We are also relational beings. We are meant to live together in community with others. That is how we experience our highest good and our greatest joy. So, with those two givens, it is inevitable that we are going to do things, intentionally or unintentionally, that cause harm to others, that lead to hurt and pain. This happens in our families, in church, in school, in the workplace, in wider society, and in international relations. Harm is caused. Wrong is done. And forgiveness is needed to restore right relationship. Whatever our political affiliation, our religious identity, whatever the hue of our skin, because we are human beings, we will be party to inflicting pain and harm to others in some way. So we must all cultivate the ability to forgive. Our capacity for doing harm must be exceeded by our capacity to forgive so that we can see our way forward in our relationships, taking responsibility as well as being authentic. This is the path to full life and joy.
The readings associated with this post image forgiveness as dry, barren, parched land, that has been drenched with rain and brought back to life. That is a beautiful image for the experience of forgiveness, given or received. It brings us back to life, to joy, to beauty, to goodness. We can flourish and bear fruit.
One of the things that I have found helpful in the process of forgiveness and letting go of bad feelings toward someone is to pray for the highest, good, the well being, the flourishing, of the one whom I need to forgive. Including myself. This helps in letting go of the negative thoughts and feelings. Clearing the way to love and joy.
Jesus wants our highest good. Forgive? Of course. How many times? Seventy times seven which is a way of saying there is no end to forgiveness. Whatever it takes. Because Jesus wants us to have full and abundant life. And whatever we are holding against ourselves or others, whatever others hold against us, is getting in the way of that. Release it all. Let it go. Let refreshing rains wash it all away.
In the opening reading of this post, there is the beautiful verse:
I am not here to pass judgement
or point the finger at anyone.
My name was written in the sand
as one who is forgiven.
I like this image of something written in the sand. We who live in Florida know well what happens to what is written in the sand. It washes away. It is gone. It disappears. This is a wonderful way to think of forgiveness and releasing our negative feelings and hurts and disappointments and failures. All that needs to be forgiven. Write it in the sand and let it be washed away. Maybe we will incorporate something like this into the spiritual life of our church: meeting at the beach, with sticks, to write in the sand and watch as the waves erase our wrongs, take away our burdens, cleanse us, and free us. A new beginning. With beautiful associations to baptism. Or maybe you will go to the beach on your own and engage in such a ritual for pursuing forgiveness.
Out of deepest love, out of the desire for our highest good and our well being, wanting us to flourish and take joy and delight in this life, Jesus begs us to forgive, 70 times 7, or more, so that we are free to live and love as he did. Amen.
Video and text –
As you listen to the music video featuring music from Hilton and the Doors Open to All installation by William, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)