Are you ready to forgive? That's our theme today, and frankly my instant response would be, “Thanks, but no thanks”. Forgiving is not easy. We are ready to punish, but not to forgive. I was a lecturer for quite some time and if my students were disturbing, I would be very happy to expel them from the class. But punishing or even worse resenting and taking revenge is not a Christian response. It should have never been and should never be our answer for anyone. Why is that so we ask? Jesus Christ, the master story teller, had a perfect tale for the Jews in the first century AD and the tale is still perfect for you and for me.
So the story begins, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 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.” Ten thousand talents. Do you know how much it is worth now in current currency? One biblical scholar estimates that one talent equals to one thousand USD. If one USD equals to ten thousand rupiahs, then one talent equals to ten million rupiahs. Ten thousand talents equals to one trillion rupiahs. Another scholar noted that the total money in circulation in the entire Judea province was even less than ten thousand talents. So here Jesus really exaggerated the amount of money. No one in the entire Judea had ten thousand talents, even when the whole province's money was collected, it would not be ten thousand talents. So who actually could owe so much money? And even stranger, “The servants master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Who in the right mind would cancel one trillion rupiah debt?
At this point, we see clearly who is meant with the King by Jesus. It's no other than the Heavenly Father who is more than ready to forgive all of us. Even if our debt, our sin is larger than the accumulated sin of the entire province, he has the power and willingness to forgive the sin of the entire world, including your sin and my sin. He has demonstrated his willingness to forgive when Jesus died on the cross for all of our sin, so that all the sin in the world lost its value compared to the great amount of forgiveness that he gave us.
But the story does not stop there. Jesus continued, “When the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'” One denarius, brothers and sisters, is one’s wage in a day. If we say that people get 100 thousand rupiah a day, one hundred denarii equals to 10 million rupiahs. It’s quite a lot, but not that much. We can clearly see that the debt is so small compared to the one trillion rupiahs. Jesus seems to love telling exaggerated numbers like this.
To our surprise, this servant refused the request to rescheduling of the payment of debt and threw the other servant to the prison. He even took all the possessions of the servant to pay for the debt. His friends were not happy with his lack of compassion and decided to bring the matter to the king. To quench our thirst for justice, the master story teller ended the story by punishing the wicked servant who was unmerciful to his fellow servant.
Now the moral of the story is added. We, the forgiven, cannot be people who just enjoy being forgiven. We are also demanded to be forgiving to other people. It does not do justice to be unforgiving. Our sin and mistakes in front of God are great, so much so that he sent his son to die for us. If someone else is making a mistake towards us, we must remember, our sins in front of God are even worse and plentiful. We therefore, logically, must forgive others, whose sins and trespasses are certainly not greater than our own. We must also remember that those, who sin against us, are first and foremost forgiven by God. As people who together have enjoyed forgiveness from God, we must forgive each other. Imagine this, your forgiven sin is like one trillion rupiahs, and your friend's mistake to you is like twenty million rupiahs. It's silly if we can't forgive others.
It is interesting that Jesus gave us this fine story in order to answer Peter's question. He was asking about how many times we must forgive other people? Peter already proposed a very good number: seven. The Jews said we had to forgive three times. It's still the practice today. We give three warnings to our employees before we fire them and students have three chances to make mistakes before teachers summon their parents. However, Jesus gave us an almost impossible number: four hundred and ninety times. Seventy by seven times. Who would have the memory to remember whether somebody has made seven mistakes let alone four hundred and ninety times. Can you actually count until someone make a mistake four hundred and seventy one time before we punish him or her? Has anyone been able to do so? Jesus seemingly proposed that the willingness to forgive should also be followed with the willingness to forget and let go our record keeping of other people's mistakes and decides to be generous and truly be forgiving.
Does that mean that we should be tolerant of sin? Or people can do us wrong as many as possible? On the contrary, it is in that context of reprimanding our brothers and sisters that have fallen to sin, Jesus told us this parable. If you look at verses 15-20, Jesus was talking about the need to confront a fellow believer who has committed sin. He told us to firstly talk with that person personally to bring him back and if he still commits sin, we must take other witnesses and warn the sinner. If that does not bring any change, we must sever our fellowship with that man. We must take sin seriously. We should not just keep on forgiving without taking actions. However, when that sinner has turned back to repentance, we must also take forgiveness seriously. We must at all cost welcome him back. It is a reflection of our Heavenly Father who through Jesus took the cost of sin seriously so that he died on the cross, so that he eventually could forgive all.
There was a story from Japan about a husband who felt so troubled by his over-talkative wife. His wife constantly complained and never stopped talking. She kept on insulting him and he was not happy. So one day while walking together in the woods, the husband lost his patience and near a dry well, he pushed his wife into the well and ran away. After a couple of days, he began to feel lonely. He missed his wife's constant chattering and her insults. So he decided to come back to the dry well and he brought a long rope. At the verge of the well, he dropped the rope and hoped that his wife would climb up. To his surprise, suddenly a big scary creature came up. He was so frightened and stepped back. The creature said to him, “Thank goodness you threw a rope into the well. There is this really noisy lady down there and I just couldn't cope with her. Her husband must be a very poor guy.” This is only a fictional story, but sometimes forgiving people, including our spouse, when they hurt our heart is very difficult. However, often too, after taking measure to take our revenge, we feel that it's wrong, it's not right not to forgive and let go the mistake. Just like the husband in the story who eventually decided to bring back her wife, deep down, all of us need other people and no matter how great the mistake is, we need to forgive others in order to continue living as a social human being.
In reality, of course, the story is even more gruesome than the joke that I just told you. How can a wife forgive a cheating husband? How can a man forgive his best friend who stole a lot of money from him? How can a victim of rape forgive the rapist? How can we forgive people who put us in jail with false accusations? Such cases, I believe, cannot be solved in one sermon. It needs counseling and a very serious and long counseling. Fortunately here at Samanhudi, you have a lot of pastors what you can choose from to provide counsel and pastoral care. However, I think it's worthwhile to outline final suggestions about ways to forgive people.
Firstly, I can forgive if I know that I will maintain a friend rather than adding one enemy. If we forgive people, we end our enmity with that person. There is this famous saying, “One thousand friends are not enough and one enemy is far too many.” Secondly, if we define forgiveness as the capability to look at someone that has done something wrong without the feeling of hatred or resentment, then this method may work for you. So one day one of our members at GKI Halimun told us to sing a song, “Kukasihi engkau dengan kasih Tuhan, Kulihat di matamu kemuliaan Tuhan, kukasihi dengan kasih Tuhan” and at the same time he asked us to picture the face of the person that has done something wrong towards us. If you try it, it's not easy at all. The song feels really awkward when we try to say it to some one who has done a mistake. But like the song tells us, we must love people with God's love and we must remember that there is the glory of God in his or her eyes. If we try to do this, it may help us to forgive others. I'm not saying it will be easy to forgive by doing this, but it may help to ease the difficulty in forgiving. Thirdly, forgiveness among us humans is possible because we know God will stand on the seat of judgment and will uphold justice for all of us. He will not be like the judges in this world whose justice can be bought. He will judge the whole world with justice. The wrong will receive their punishment. The righteous will receive their reward. This is also good news of the Christian faith that our Lord is not just a loving and forgiving God, but he is also a just God. Therefore we can cast away our right to punish other people, knowing for certain that eventually God will deliver his justice to the wicked. I also believe when we stand in front of God's judgment day, our feeling will not be one of happiness for God punishes people, but a feeling of overwhelming joy that God will not only be just, but he will be forgiving and merciful as well. For we too are sinners, we too have made mistakes to others and to God and if we plea for our forgiveness and he does forgive us, it is only natural that we hope that He will also listen to others, even those who are wicked towards us, when they plea for forgiveness and we pray to that God will be merciful towards them.
In sum, there is no easy way to forgive. It's a painful process but it's a road towards self-healing and self-recovery. If we decide to keep our resentment and revenge, we will suffer even more because we allow ourselves to be the victim of other people's wickedness towards us. Only those who are winners, champions of life, are willing to take the step to forgive others. It is wise to uphold justice and punish those who have made mistakes or sins, but it's even wiser to forgive those who repent and decide to stop making the mistakes. I'd like to close this sermon by telling you a story about Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. He was arrested because he opposed the apartheid regime. One day when he was really thirsty in the prison he said to his guard, “Could you please fetch me some water.” Instead of giving him some water, the guard took him out and made him lay on the ground and urinated on him. Years later, Mandela was freed from the prison and he eventually became the president. On his inauguration day, he invited this guard who has urinated on him. The guard was so afraid and he thought he would be punished. But instead, Mandela hugged the guard and said, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is the quality of the victim, the brave victim, who is willing to heal the old wounds and make things right with the oppressors. By doing so the victims are no longer victims. They have become the victors. Jesus Christ went through the cross so that he could forgive all of us and became the biggest victor of all. So be ready, we've got some forgiving to do. Amen.Agustian N. Sutrisno