The Gospel lessons we hear each Sunday don’t often include Christ’s direct warnings about the future judgement. More often we hear the Lord teach in parables, as He does today, but the lesson is often left in poetic terms for our hearts to peel back the layers of the parable to determine which part is for our inspiration. Today’s lesson is different because it ends with a very clear warning from Christ, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you, if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18.35)
Forgiveness is something we each, even if we don’t want to admit it, struggle with in our hearts. The pain we carry from being treated poorly, cheated, insulted, ignored, or even abused, follows us into every relationship and interaction we have with other people. Whether we are with our family and friends, or complete strangers at the mall, our past is a part of our present and we many times struggle to forgive what others have said or done to us in the past. We may want to forgive them, but the pain too often is a constant reminder, and our hearts just don’t let go. Instead of forgiveness, our heart feels frustration and injustice, so we demand retribution either emotionally or otherwise. The problem is, we never quite feel vindicated, so we never quite forgive.
So today, God has given us a warning and a way out. The warning is simple. If we don’t forgive others, we will not be forgiven, and that means spending all eternity condemned to hell. The way out is equally simple. If we are able to forgive even the smallest things others have said and done to us, we will be forgiven by God even for the huge things we may have said or done to Him. It may sound simple, but simple is rarely easy.
I often hear, “I forgive but I don’t forget.” That isn’t forgiveness from the heart. In order for our heart to forgive, we must first have compassion for the other person. “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18.27) Without compassion, forgiveness falls dead in our heart. “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had compassion on you?” (Matthew 18.33) When we have compassion, and only when we have compassion, our heart is able to let go of the pain that others have caused. Then we can forgive AND forget what others have said or done to us. Then, and ONLY THEN, will God do the same for us.