In our house, towards the end of summer, the warm, wonderful, and whimsical days of fun and sun seem to take an inevitable and drastic turn towards the chaotic and combative.
In what seems to be the forgotten ring of Hell from Donte’s Inferno, this three-week window before school starts again, somehow transforms my sweet eight-year-old son and adorable five-year-old daughter into some strange, demonic shadows of themselves, ready and willing to start and finish any fight, over anything, at any time, and without any remorse.
It was during this period that, after yet another series of bad choices by both, I approached my son to have him initiate the process of forgiveness between them. However, as this was not our first dance of the day, it was not his refusal that surprised me, but rather his reasoning, “I don’t have to forgive her because she’s just my sister, and she always annoys me.”
In our Gospel lesson for today, after what seems have been a their own “summer of fun,” a great run of preaching and teaching, miracles and transfigurations, Jesus begins to turn his talk toward the cross, toward suffering, death, and resurrection, and toward sin and forgiveness. His disciples therefore, like my children, seeing the end coming, move from fun, fellowship, and an envisioned future together, to sadness, anxiety, and petty arguments over who would be the greatest among them (Mk 9:33–37; Lk 9:46–48).
It is here, that we find Peter, anxious and afraid, angry and resentful, confused and curious, and reaching out to Jesus for a word of assurance. In what we might hear as Peter desperately reaching for some back up, for a limit to which he could point to the others, who were now just his brothers who always annoy him, he asks…“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:22)
What follows, in both Jesus’ direct response, and his parable, is nothing Peter, the disciples, or anyone from that time or today could have imagined. Jesus spoke of a radical forgiveness that was tantamount to breathing in the new Kingdom of God; you must do it, always, everywhere, and with everyone.
We must forgive in the same radical and robust way as Jesus’ call to Peter to forgive “seventy-seven times” (that is, always, without regard to number) in a time, and for a people where “an eye for an eye” was the way. We must forgive in the same unthinkable and incomprehensible way as the parable King’s unexpected and extravagant forgiveness of an unfathomable debt that went beyond the requested stay of repayment. We must, as children of God, and recalling Jesus’ earlier words on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:43-44), initiate this forgiveness out of a place and call to love, love our friends, our enemies, and those persecute (and annoy) us.
So, whether you’re Joseph standing before the very brothers who sold you into slavery (Genesis 50:15-21), or my son, standing in seeming righteousness over his annoying sister, we are all called to leave the seat of judgement to our Lord (Romans 14:1-12) and forgive. We are called to remember that we do not merely “live to ourselves,” but rather “we live to the Lord” who loves extravagantly. Finally, we are called to live, breathe, and share in the same radical, robust, Kingdom of God life as God himself, who first loved, and gave his only Son, that all who believe in him should not die of sin, but rather have eternal life through forgiveness (John 3:16).