21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
Cancer is something that scares us out of our minds, especially if our families have a history with it. In the last year I experienced a great deal of loss. My dad, brother, and grandmother died from cancer. I walked with the three of them in different ways as their bodies corroded from the inside out. I saw the frailty of their humanity as it dissolved into dust, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
In the same way, unforgiveness is something that can corrode our souls and kill our relationships.
In this week’s reading, Jesus and Peter have a conversation that addresses this issue. It begins with Peter asking how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus basically responds by saying he should forgive them an endless amount of times.
He then tells a story to flesh out his point. Jesus shares about a king who is in the process of settling his accounts with all of his servants. One of them owed an astronomical amount and couldn’t pay his debt. Contrary to the common practice of the day, the king decides to forgive the entirety of his servant’s debt. This forgiveness mirrors new creation; it generates a new reality with new possibilities for this forgiven servant. He has literally been saved and given new life.
Shortly after, the forgiven servant encounters a peer who owes him a small amount of money. Instead of keeping the chain of forgiveness going, he grabs him by the neck and throws him in jail until he services his debt. This is where the cancer begins. Instead of spreading goodness and a new way of believing in God’s abundance, he breaks the chain of forgiveness and falls into a mindset of scarcity.
It’s easy to judge this servant because Jesus’ story is so exaggerated. The servant clearly comes across as a “bad guy.” But I wonder, if we all took a really good look in the mirror, might we discover that deep down, in our own unique ways, we have more in common with this servant than we realize?
One of my most beautiful experiences of forgiveness came from my dad. As he was lying on his deathbed, he said to me, “I hold nothing against you.” These words meant the world to me.
You see, when my parents separated, I gave my dad a ride to the bus stop and told him I never wanted to hear from him again. I still have a vivid memory of the moment, and even the night sky that surrounded us. Fast forward ten years later, I held my dad’s hand, and experienced a new creation. I had been forgiven for something that was not even my fault, but for which I blamed myself, my parents' separation.
My personal experience with forgiveness helps me to explore the passage, and how humans experience forgiveness. If we cannot find the beginning of the chain of forgiveness, we will end up grabbing each other’s throats with no time to think about being the first link of the chain that forgives. However, if we stop, and think of what being forgiven is, the cancer of violence, and lack of forgiveness can be cured. In my case, I still have a long way to go in forgiving others. However, when I see the forgiveness I experienced when holding my dad’s hand, I can dream, and reimagine new ways of relating to others.
We are continually surrounded by bad news. When we turn on the TV, we are confronted with images of angry protests, rioting, looting and destruction. We are systematically provoked to feel bitter, resentful, pessimistic, despondent and discouraged. We face possible imminent death from COVID 19 and there is no end in sight. Immersed in all this, it is a natural human reaction to develop a negative attitude that drives us to further despair.
It does not have to be that way. We can maintain positive mindsets despite highly-negative external events. We should not let them unduly burden us internally. Viktor Frankl confronted torture and odds of survival of less than 5% in Nazi death camps at Auschwitz y Dachau. He wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” His positive attitude helped him survive.
Most importantly, God does not want us to fall into devilish entrapment in negative attitude. He wants us to live a quality life whatever the happenings around us. When we put ourselves in his hands and trust fully in him, it is always possible. The Bible has examples and counseling.
Paul was in chains in a cold dungeon waiting to be executed. Yet he tells us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In 4:8 he says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. He concludes with verse 9, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
David went through brutal hardships and trials. He was pursued into the mountains by a jealous Saul. He was captured by the Philistines and had to feign craziness as a ploy to get them to release him. He lived in caves in the desert and hungered and thirsted, yet he wrote beautiful psalms that give us hope and comfort. David was remarkable for the way he maintained a positive attitude and praised God in so many circumstances.
Verses may be found throughout the Bible about confronting great hardships with joy. Psalm 47: 1 tells us, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Romans 15: 13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Do not burden yourself with bad thoughts and bad attitudes no matter what the circumstances. Try to let your attitude be continuously positive and hopeful. Hearken to the Word of God. How much more rewarding life can be when you do. And never forget that the God of peace is always with you.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan.... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:3,7b (NIV)
It was in the middle of the Jordan River. God had stopped the flow of the water from upstream. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord could then stand firm in the middle of the river while the Israelites completed their crossing on the dry riverbed over into the promised land. When the whole nation had finished crossing, God gave instructions to bring stones from the middle of the river and make a memorial as a reminder of what he had done for them. So in the middle of this pandemic what is God revealing to each of us that we may want to make a marker/reminder of? Maybe it’s his faithfulness, maybe it’s a mighty work, or maybe, like for me, it’s something in my heart that he is revealing to me that may need a “heart check.”
During these months of having most of my face hidden behind a mask and sunglasses, I noticed how often I was rolling my eyes and smirking. Could my fault-finding thoughts be coming to the surface more frequently? Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Too quickly I was becoming what my heart was revealing, really sparing of any grace.
As I have begun to pray more for my inner and outer responses to be more gracious and forgiving, my thoughts have become more invaded by God’s thoughts. My desires to do disapproving looks are being ambushed. And a blessing (which a wise person once shared with me) of praying, “Bless them Lord, heal me” infiltrates my mind much more often. As this change in my heart is happening, I know it is the Holy Spirit backing me up and with that comes a supernatural joy and contentment and peace. As Romans 8:6 states, the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 12:2 is another great reminder of letting God transform us by the way we think.
Will there be a word for a rock of remembrance to describe a faithful act of God’s love for you during this time? I know how easy it is to keep going on in life and forget what God has done for me or to go back to an old pattern of thinking. I want to remember this time where God exposed me to the truth about an area of my heart. His unfailing love has surrounded me once again. He has invaded some ungracious thoughts and ambushed some unbecoming actions.
I think my word may be besieged -- captured by the power of God’s transforming love. He is not leaving me alone in the middle. As He promised in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will not leave you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep you away.”
Luke 15: 3-5a Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (NIV)
At the height of our young daughter’s pandemic loneliness, we decided to ride the wave of pandemic dog adoptions. We received a placement last Wednesday, but because, well, Guatemala, the dog got stuck in traffic and didn’t arrive home until evening. When it arrived, it was so afraid, it bolted from the Doggy Uber and RAN. Without thinking, so did I. I chased her through Vista Hermosa, and, assisted by said Doggy Uber and a really fast stranger, we caught her.
I arrived home, winded, and said to Joel, “I think my devotion this week will be about the parable of the lost sheep.” Now, in no way am I comparing myself to the shepherd in this passage. My dog hunt was motivated by fear and guilt -- I couldn’t let this dog I just met get run over or lost; whereas, the shepherd’s sheep hunt was motivated by love and a desire for all his sheep to be safe at home.
In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-7), the shepherd willingly seeks out his one lost sheep and delights in its homecoming. Similarly, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, willingly and joyfully seeks out the lost in order to welcome them -- us -- home with a heavenly party. Regarding a different “lost” parable, the parable of the prodigal son, Henri Nouwen reminds us that the heavenly party does not negate the deep sorrow that God feels over having lost one of his children. Sorrow over separation inspires God’s mission: send my Son to find my sheep and bring them home.
At times, I find myself as part of the 99 -- wondering why we have to keep waiting for that lost sheep. It’s not hard to follow the shepherd! Keep your eyes up and keep walking! Other times, I find myself as one of the neighbors invited to the party, rejoicing that a friend or family member was found and welcomed home. Still other times, I am that one sheep. I’m lost, whether I know it or not, and Jesus willingly and joyfully seeks me, finds me, and welcomes me home.
Read Luke 15:1-7 this week, and, if time allows, the entire “lost progression” (the sheep, the coin, the son) in Luke 15. Ask yourself the following questions:
● At this point in my life, where am I in this story?
● When have I been that one lost sheep?
● What did it feel like to be willingly and joyfully found and welcomed home by Jesus?
● Do I genuinely rejoice when other lost sheep are found? Why or why not?
● How is Jesus seeking me today, this week, in the midst of a global pandemic?