The True Meaning of Forgiveness 17 September 2017
Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
A woman bought a parrot for a pet. All the parrot did was treat her
badly. It insulted her and every time she tried to pick it up, it would
peck at her arm.
One day she got fed up with the parrot. As it was insulting her, she
picked it up. It continued with the insults.”You’re ugly!” “I can’t stand
you!” And it pecked at her arm as she carried it. She opened the
fridge door and threw it in and closed the door. From inside, the parrot
was still going on for about 5 seconds and then it was suddenly quiet.
She thought, “Oh no, I’ve killed it!” She opened the door and the
parrot just looked at her. She picked it up. Then the parrot said: “I’m
very sorry. I apologize for my bad behaviour and promise you there
will be no more of that. From now on I will be a respectful, obedient
parrot. “Will you forgive me?”
“Well ok,” she said. “Apology accepted”.
The parrot said “Thank you”. Then it said, “Can I ask you
something?” She said, “Yes. What?”
And the parrot looked at the fridge and asked, “What did the chicken
Today we stand to learn much from our Gospel. It speaks to the
difficult question of forgiveness, especially forgiveness in the church. But
most of all it speaks of God’s super abundant love.
We are so used to things running out, and so Peter asks the question
everyone is thinking, “How many times must I forgive.?” In other
words, there must be a limit on my forgiving others. Jesus gives the
answer, 77 times. Another Gospel has 7 times 77. We aren’t
meant to literally count out 77 times but rather we are not
to put any limit on our forgiving.
Forgiveness is often most difficult among Christians. We think that
somehow we won’t disagree, or that somehow God will make us all
I think if we expect to disagree, if we expect conflict, it makes it much
easier to handle. The Gospel doesn’t say if you disagree but when.
Last week we gathered for our synod. Did we disagree about the
cathedral? Of course we did. Did everyone get the outcome they
wanted? Of course they didn’t. Are we united behind it? You bet we
Next Sunday afternoon we meet to decide whether we want a
Christian pre-school. Will we all want it? Of course not. Will we be
united behind the decision? I hope so.
Jesus goes on to tell the story of what is called the unforgiving
servant. His boss forgives this servant a ridiculous amount of money.
One commentator I read said that in modern terms, it was the debt of
a third world country.
But when someone owes the same servant money, the equivalent of a
day’s pay, he has them thrown into jail.
The point is that God has forgiven us, and does forgive us. Not once,
but 77 times 7 times. God goes on forgiving. That’s what God is like.
God’s love never runs out. And if the well of God’s love can never run
dry then we who are God’s forgiven people, are ourselves to be
But why? .
Jesus knows that without forgiveness we quickly become God’s frozen
people. Without forgiveness we become bitter. Without forgiveness we
are locked in a cage of our own making. Unforgiveness is like drinking
poison and expecting the other person to get sick.
Jesus mandate is that we might have abundant life. We can’t enjoy
that life without forgiveness.
Linda Dyne hugged her son, Justin, goodbye as he caught the train to
Auckland from Upper Hutt in the winter of 2000. They said “I love you”
to one another, as they always did when they parted. Linda never saw
her 25-year-old son again.
Justin’s body was found in the Waitakere Ranges that September. He
had been strangled and dumped in the bush more than a month
earlier. Dental records confirmed the body to be Justin’s.
Linda was a mess for a long time after Justin’s death. She said, “I
was running on anger. I was riddled with it. Every time I thought
about my son and how he had died in this horrendous way … As a
mother that’s something you never want to experience.”
Forgiveness for her was a ‘sign from God’. “I have always been a
Christian.” she said. “One day, about two years after Justin’s death, I
was studying the Bible and something fell out of it, a piece of paper. It
was a leaflet about the Sycamore Tree Programme.”
The Prison Fellowship’s Sycamore Tree Programme offers a forum for
people – often the victims of crime – to tell offenders about the impact
of crime on their lives.
“I don’t know how that piece of paper got into the Bible, but I looked
at it and thought ‘Yes!’. I had a huge compulsion to get involved.”
“It was a hard process, but it helped. “It set me free. At the end I
was offered the opportunity to meet the man who killed Justin.”
“My family could not understand why I wanted to meet him.”
“When the day came, I prayed all the way to Wellington Prison. When
Lawson came into the meeting his head was hung and he wouldn’t
look at me. He said he made no excuses for what he did. I told him
what he had done to me and my family. How taking Justin from us had
affected my family. A piece of me was carved out the day he killed
Justin. I’ll never get to see him find love and have a family. A mother
always expects to be buried by her children, not the other way
“Then I told him I was a Christian and that I wanted to forgive him.
He looked at me for the first time. He was overwhelmed. Then I
Linda emerged from prison that day in awe of what had just occurred.
She explained: “I used to go to a lot of ugly places in my heart before
I forgave Lawson. Forgiveness has released me. I can understand why
some people would not be able to forgive something like this. It was
certainly a struggle for me. The only way I was able to do it was
with God’s help.”