When you can't forgive something or someone, you are the one who is in prison. Bitterness may seem right, but it is no fun. Jesus came to set us free. Jesus came to fill our lives with light. If you want to feel free in your spirit, you will have to forgive those who have done you wrong. It can be hard, but the scriptures give us the means to forgive deeply from our heart.
(Just a little note: Forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation. "Reconciliation" involves two or more people. It is the restoration of the relationship. "Forgiveness" involves only you and how you think about the wrong that was done to you. To forgive someone means to give up your right to get even.)
Here are three ways the scripture motivates and empowers us toward forgiveness toward those who have hurt us:
#1 God is bigger than whoever did you wrong — so you can forgive them.
Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. Through a series of events, Joseph became a ruler in Egypt. Eventually, Joseph's brothers came under Joseph's power. They were (quite reasonably) afraid Joseph would take revenge for them selling him into slavery. Joseph's trust in God's working in his life was so strong that he forgave his brothers, telling them, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good and saved our people from starvation through your act." Paul writes to the Christians in Rome (and to us): We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) Because we know that God is working through even those who intend us harm, we can let the grudges go and release the bitterness. Some of us need to be reminded that we can forgive people and move on because God is bigger than they are or what they've done.
#2 Judging others is not our place — so you can forgive them.
In our epistle reading, we read what Paul wrote about our judging others and withholding forgiveness: "Who are you to judge another man's servant. It is before his own master that he stands or falls." In other words, "Who put you on the judgement seat?" When you refuse to forgive someone, you are judging them. You are passing sentence on their actions as beyond forgiveness. Some of us need to be reminded that judging others is not our place. We are to leave the judgement to God and forgive others.
#3 You have been forgiven much more by God than anything you are asked to forgive in others — so you can forgive them.
In our Gospel reading, we recounted a parable that Jesus told about forgiveness. In the parable, a man owed a king an unpayable debt (like 10 million dollars). He pleaded with the king to give him more time. The king had compassion and forgave the man's debt. Then the man went out and found someone who owed him the equivalent of about $8,000 dollars. The one who owed $8k asked for more time to pay and the one who had been forgiven $10 million did not have mercy on him. He had him thrown into prison. The people who saw it reported it to the king. The king reinstated the man's $10 million debt and sent him to prison until the last penny would be paid. This one is a bit of a kick-in-the-pants. "You'd better forgive others because God has forgiven you much more than you would ever have to forgive others." It's a truth some of us need to be reminded of. We have been forgiven of everything and welcomed into the kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has initiated the cycle of forgiveness and He expects us to pass it on.
God wants you to be free in Jesus. If you are holding onto hurts and grudges, you are in a self-imposed prison. God has given you the keys today. Whichever motivation suits you and your situation, will you unlock your heart and forgive those who hurt or wronged you? That is the path to peace.
Grace and peace to you!