Am I entitled to forgiveness? 24 Sunday A 2017

Friends, today we speak on sin, mercy and forgiveness in human and in the Christian life. Much of what is happening in our world today tempts us not to be merciful, to avenge and to practice an eye for an eye.  Killings of fellow human beings as if they were flies with impunity take place in many parts of the world. Soldiers and law enforcement agencies dehumanize and killing fellow humans as if they would not be accountable to God for their actions. Regrettably, many of them are those who profess to be Christians. Might is construed as right. The world considers us weak when we show humility and mercy. Nevertheless, when it seems that God is not engaged in our lives as individuals, we are reminded in today's opening prayer: "God, you who created everything and lead the world." This can only mean something if God cares about us both as a group and as individuals. Sometimes it seems to us that we have the right not to show mercy and to forgive those that harm us.

About 550 years before Christ a prophet we call the Second Isaiah encouraged the Jews of the Babylonian exile, describing the blessings that will come to them through the coming of the Messiah (43, 44, 47, 52, 52). These blessings are to be bought at an expensive price- Messiah's suffering, humiliation, mockery and death. In the Second Isaiah, we have a series of prophetic and poetic texts describing the future Messiah (Isa 40-55). He is described as God's faithful servant (Ebed Yahweh). He was chosen before his birth and has the Spirit of God. He will be a light for all people so that the salvation of God reaches all the ends of the earth. He shall suffer death, but God will give him life and many spiritual blessings (53: 10-12).

Mercy, sin and forgiveness cannot be understood without understanding suffering. How we relate to forgiveness has a lot to do with how we interpret and understand suffering, its potential and purpose in our lives. It must be understood in relation to those we consider as our enemies. Does God create suffering for our ultimate good as part of his plan for our lives? Or does God respond to suffering and seek to free us from its influence? In other words, should we accept suffering as something within God's master plan for our lives or something outside God's plan? The challenge of suffering concerns the interpretation of our life experience without ending in nihilism. Faith justifies our struggle in life and gives it meaning, goals and a wonderful end. The word of God tells us that whoever does not live in him will be cast out and wither like a branch- (John 15: 6). We have life if we remain in the source of life, which is Jesus, the Messiah, Saviour and Lord.

Salach is a Hebrew word for forgiveness used only to refer to God. Because God is the giver of life, sin is against others or against oneself and against God Himself. Therefore, only God has the power to forgive. To forgive truly is divine. After the fall, human beings suffered spiritual kelalah (curse). The whole scripture is about God's struggle to free us from spiritual kelalah. At acharit hayamin (the end of time) comes all that is hidden to be revealed. We all have our time of "Jacob's trouble". In the Torah, God instituted a sacrificial system for reconciliation with Him for human sins. Satan demands the sinner's soul (neshamah). But God accepted animal sacrifice to atone for sins and thus buy oneself free from the judgment sin. The sinner places his hands on the head of the animal and confesses his sins (viduy). God forgives that sinner because of his faith and repentance (teshuva). Christ becomes God's perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 8: 3-4). What we are called to do (semichah) today is to lay our hands on Jesus' head as our perfect sacrifice and confess our sins (viduy). The righteous (tzaddik) shall live through his faith (Hab 2: 4; Rom 1:17, Galatians 3:11).

Simple faith in the truth of the gospel is all that is required. Most who heard Jesus felt hurt and eventually he was crucified because of their hatred. After Jesus died, the cross became a sign of contradiction. That was what the Apostle Paul called for the scandal of the cross. Why has God created the world with both possibility and prevalence of suffering and evil? The question is of importance because suffering can lead to bitterness, chronic depression, madness and spiritual suicide. Therefore, it is important to understand its meaning in our lives and to find hope in our struggle. Jesus was "ish malchavot" - a "man of sorrow" who suffered unfairly and had first-hand experience of the effects of evil in its fullness. Jesus teaches us that the righteous (tzaddikim) will suffer a lot in this world (John 16:33) and Paul writes that we are given the Messiah to believe in and suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29). Suffering is not always the consequence of our sins (Col. 1:24). The prophet Isaiah writes how God removes our iniquities. Jesus was hurt for our iniquities (pesha), crushed for our crimes, crushed for our unrighteousness (avon) while bearing the sins of many (Cha ta 'ah) (Isa 53).

Because God is righteous and His ways are righteous, He allows the evil in our lives for His own sake and purpose. We know that this does not satisfy all those who seek meaning in suffering. In Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, Ivan claims that nothing can justify the torture of a little five-year-old girl left out in the Russian winter to die. Suffering is a tool in God's hands that is used to shape our character. Kierkegaard calls suffering "education for eternity". C. Lewis writes that God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pains, it is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world".

In today's gospel, the necessity of mercy and repeated forgiveness (Matthew 18: 21-35) required of those who bear the name of Christian is emphasized. The text can be divided into two different sections: Peter's question to Jesus: "Lord, how many times will my brother me wrong me and still deserves mine forgive? So much as seven times?" Jesus tells Peter seventy-seven times meaning that mercy and forgiveness know no limits. Then Jesus uses the parable of the merciful servant to drive home his point.

This story has a lot to teach about how we can deal with evil, suffering, mercy and forgiveness in the world. The first servant had been forgiven. He was vulnerable and almost without dignity as he stood before the king and asked for mercy. When he requested repayment from his fellow servant and put him in prison, he regained his power and dignity. He does not want to give up this power over others. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the co-servant's reporting is like the first servant's action. They failed to forgive and demanded punishment for the first servant. Gracious and merciful is the Lord (Ps 103: 1-4). Those who do not show forgiveness cannot expect forgiveness.

Sometimes I've heard people say but you're Christian, you've to forgive, forget and move on. Some people say that a priest should forgive everything and not wait for the one who wronged us to first ask for forgiveness. There is some basic error with this mindset. It shows insufficient knowledge of the ways of God and the nature and purpose of forgiveness. Certain requirements must be fulfilled for forgiveness to work within a human being.

 First, sin must be recognized as sin. And it comes from true and true self-examination (Chesh bon ha-nefesh) in the light of God's word through the voice of the conscience (Acts 24: 1b, Romans 2: 5). Secondly, if we have sinned against someone we must admit and confess our sins to the person and ask for forgiveness. In Jewish thinking, only the sinner can right the wrong, and only the one who suffered the wrong can forgive the guilt (Matthew 5: 23-24). If I wrong someone, it is my duty to correct what I have done. If someone has wronged me, it is my duty to give the person the opportunity to correct what the person has done to me. To deny someone who has hurt me and ask for true forgiveness this opportunity is evil. Those who have done wrong to us must show concretely that they truly regretted what they have done by not continuing in sin (azivat ha-chet). They must show remorse and sorrow for what they have done. They must also decide and commit themselves to living in a new way (Kabbalah-alhaatid) by disregarding sin in the future. We cannot honestly confess our sins to God and expect forgiveness when we are aware that we have hurt others through our sinful deeds. It is important to seek forgiveness of the one we did wrong.

When we sin against someone, when we hurt someone, it's a natural response to just pull away from the source of pain. This causes an emotional gap in the relationship. By asking forgiveness from the one we have wounded, we open ourselves in humility which shows that we have experienced pain because we acted wrongly. For us to do that, we must walk in love. The path of repentance is love and reconciliation (1 Timothy 1: 5). It was this way Paul shows us when he writes in his epistle to the Ephesians (4: 23-5: 2) "Make sure that you are renewed in spirit and understanding, and that you are dressed in the new man created after God's image, with the righteousness and holiness that belong to the truth. Get rid of all ugliness, anger and harshness, with darkness and insults and all other evil. Be good to each other, show compassion and forgive each other, as God has forgiven you in Christ. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil”.

Therefore, the Lord says through Syrak that anger and hatred are abominable. Those who are vengeful suffer from the Lord's vengeance. Yes, if we forgive our neighbour’s injustice against us, then our own sins can be wiped away as we pray. Everyone is obliged to show mercy to those who have done evil to us and beg for forgiveness. We have no excuse not to give them.  It does not mean that forgiveness immediately leads to reconciliation. But it begins the healing process that removes the desire to avenge. By forgiving you are no longer under the influence of the evil that he or she suffered. The Lord expects us to be merciful and forgiving to each other.

It is in this light that we can understand and put Peter's question to Jesus in its context and interpret suffering, forgiveness, and mercy, reconciliation.  Peter's question is not about how many times we must forgive the one who hurt us, but how we must relate to sin, suffering, forgiveness, and mercy. Christ himself has summed up this "love God and love your neighbour." When a Christian is aware of all that God has done for her, what future he has planned for her, there will be no trouble loving such a God. Loving our neighbour can be difficult. There are people who make it very difficult for others to love them. Nevertheless, we must love them by looking beyond their shortcomings and seeing Christ in them. Christ has made all people brothers and sisters in God. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

Webbdesign: Peter Tynkkynen