Mirrors of mercy

August 19, 2011

Summer sermons in our community have been
focused on the parables and sayings of Jesus.  I’ve not been present
for the whole series, but have enjoyed the challenge of preaching from
these bracing, disorienting, reorienting stories over the last few

This week, my text is Matthew 18:21-35—the famous passage where Jesus instructs Peter on the new math of forgiveness.  It’s
a familiar enough story: a servant is forgiven an outrageous sum of
money by his master, and promptly responds by refusing to forgive his
fellow man a paltry amount in comparison.  The lesson is obvious: we
ought to forgive as we have been forgiven.  More disturbingly, perhaps,
Jesus says that our refusal to forgive will block us from receiving the
forgiveness of the Father.

I’ve been reading Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human this
week, and deeply appreciated his closing chapter on forgiveness.  He
suggests that forgiveness is based on the three-fold conviction that, 1)
all of us have value and share a common humanity; 2) each of us can
change—human redemption is possible; and 3) unity and peace are at the
core of what all of us long for.  Without something like these three
convictions at work, Vanier suggests, true forgiveness will be
impossible for us.  And, to return to Jesus’ harsh words at the end of
Matthew 18, perhaps the absence of these three convictions places
us—temporarily, it is to be hoped—outside the forgiving embrace of our

However we come to terms with the harsh
words of Jesus that close Matthew 18, we cannot escape the truth that
forgiveness matters deeply to God.  It’s also brutally hard, as
anyone who has attempted to forgive knows well.  At the end of the day,
though, I think it is a testament to the dignity of human beings that
we can choose to transcend our instinctual needs for revenge, to be
proven right, or to mask our own fears, insecurities, and prejudices, by
choosing to forgive.  We can choose the harder path that leads to life,
and in so doing show what we were made for, and by whom.

To forgive is divine, in a sense, as
Vanier suggests near the end of this chapter, borrowing these words from
Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz:

In the last resort, humans cannot define what constitutes
their humanity. It transcends them. As we work for forgiveness, we are
called to reflect that as human beings, each of us is created in the
image of God, the most Merciful. This is our calling, our mission: to
become mirrors of mercy.

Originally posted at Rumblings.

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