We’ve been talking about forgiveness tonight in our bible study group. Some wonderful honesty and mutual encouragement. Wrestling with forgiveness is at the very heart of understanding and living out the gospel of Jesus.
We were studying Matthew 18:21-35. I find it really helpful to put some modern-day figures on the money involved. Ten thousand talents – let’s call that a hundred billion pounds. A hundred denarii? Let’s call that £5000. Now five grand is not nothing. If you cost me five grand I will be mighty peeved. But only until I remember the hundred billion. And that’s how forgiveness works. It’s always costly. A hundred denarii aint nothing. But first appreciate the hundred billion. Then cancel the five grand.
But as we spoke of how difficult forgiveness is, it struck me where a lot of our (ok, my!) problems come from. So much stems from refusing to face the damage done to us. We dare not stare it full in the face and say “You robbed me of five grand (or even five million!) and I’m never getting it back.” We don’t feel we have the resources to take such a hit. So instead of facing the loss head on and drawing on our resources in Christ we convince ourselves that the five grand is not gone for good. It can’t be gone, it’s all we had. So we consider it as an outstanding debt. And we make them pay. In tit-for-tat and slurs and cold shoulders and the mental equivalent of voodoo dolls.
And whilever they are a debtor making repayments forgiveness is just not an option. We’ve bought into a repayment model and cancelling the debt is unthinkable. But once we face the debt as a straight out loss we can say “Dang, it’s cost me. Now what?” And that’s really the position of us all when we are wronged. The devil loves to tell us – “You haven’t really lost out for good. You can recoup your costs here, let me show you how.” But the devil is a liar. You have lost. It’s gone and it’s not coming back except by the redeeming hand of Christ. But for now you need to appreciate the loss as a loss. A dead loss. Not bruised and battered. Dead. And it can only become gain in the hands of the Lord of Resurrection.
Because once you’ve faced the loss you then realise your options. Bitterness/ hard-heartedness/ revenge is an option which involves its own costs. On the other hand there’s ‘taking pity, cancelling the debt and letting them go’ (Matt 18:27).
The one option you don’t have (and never did have) was recouping the loss. But only once you’ve faced the loss are you able to make the decision that can free you (and them). You’ve lost out and nothing will change that. Now you’ve got to choose how to handle that loss. The devil’s way will cost you dearly. But Jesus says “I know a way of handling this loss that will free you and free them and put you in touch with the power of my cosmic redemption.”
It begins by acknowledging your own debt. Enjoying the hundred billion. Facing the loss of the five thousand. And then it continues in taking pity, cancelling the debt and letting go. In the end that’s the only way to handle the loss.