How hard is it for you to say sorry after making a mistake? To say sorry often means us swallowing our pride, overcoming embarrassment, and laying ourselves open to a possible rebuff. It is far easier to wait for the hurt to subside. But, if words of the song say, ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’ to say, there are three related words that are can be harder to mean: ‘I forgive you.’ We may be happy enough to tell them; we may even want to mean what we say and genuinely believe that we do, but to really forgive someone in the true sense of the word is a rare gift indeed. A past mistake is constantly dredged up again in the heat of anger. An error that we considered long-since forgotten is suddenly thrown back in our face. Probably each of us is as guilty of doing that as any.
In his gospel, Matthew, in chapter 18, speaks of the encounter between Peter and Jesus when Peter asks how often he should forgive? ‘Peter approached him and said, ‘Lord, how often should I let someone sin against me and still forgive them? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy–seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then uses a parable to explain the concept of God’s forgiveness. It’s worth a read if you haven’t seen it recently. You see, with God, it’s different. When we confess our sins and are genuinely sorry, they are put behind us, over and done with, and dealt with. No going back to them later; it is as if they never were. That’s the good news. The bad news is this: God wants us to show the same level of forgiveness to others. It’s a lot to ask, and we will probably always fail, but we need to try if we are serious about discipleship. If God can forgive us, who are we not to forgive in turn?
Do you hold a grievance against someone? What is stopping you from forgiving them? Can you do something about it today? Earlier in his gospel, Matthew has this to say, ‘If you forgive others their mistakes, your heavenly Father will forgive you in turn’ (Matthew 6:14).
Perhaps this can be your prayer this week?
Loving God, teach me to recognize how much I have been forgiven and so help me reach out to others in turn, ready to show mercy, forgive, and forget, for your name’s sake.