Monday, October 17, 2016
I Didn't Notice
October 17, 2016 Yesterday I wrote about missing notes and making mistakes while playing upright bass for our church band. My daughter, who plays keyboard but was among the congregation yesterday, wrote me a note: "I didn't notice." She's pretty attuned to these kinds of things, so this was either high praise or extremely biased reporting. Given the present state of journalism, I would suspect the latter. Her comment does however, lend some insight to a Scripture text that though plain enough, often eludes our notice of its central message. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how often must he forgive someone who sins against him. The text itself is vague enough to be subject to two different interpretations, as revealed by the subtle differences in translation. The more challenging interpretation reads, "How many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" In other words, it's not a case of someone sinning against him once, but Peter is having a hard time dealing with it, so wonders how often he has to let it go before he can hold a grudge. Instead, the individual is repeatedly sinning against Peter. How long must that go on before Peter can stop forgiving and take a swing at the guy? It's a tough question, and Jesus' answer isn't easy. Essentially, he is saying that no matter how many times someone repeatedly sins against you, you must forgive. Jesus gives no leeway, no wiggle room. Forgive. Period. The reason behind this seemingly harsh requirement is not the soft, weak attitude of some who ooze sweetness and light. It is Jesus' recognition that when we refuse to forgive, we imprison ourselves in bitterness, poisoning our own souls. By his repeated offenses, the offender is adequately demonstrating a lack of sensitivity to other people, and goes on his merry way, unconcerned about the devastation he leaves in the wake of his continual sinning. When we hold onto a grudge, the offender isn't harmed in any way; we are. That's the rationale behind Jesus' words. Forgiveness is how we set ourselves free. But knowing the rationale doesn't make it any easier. This is where a deeper understanding of the Scripture is helpful. Think about times you have sinned, the repeated failures to measure up to the values and standards you hold in your heart. Apart from sociopaths, most of us are all-too cognizant of our shortcomings. They haunt us like the scenes of a scary movie. We read this text and all we see is the command to do what seems impossible. We fail to see that the reason Jesus can hold forth this standard of behavior to us is because he and his Heavenly Father have upheld this same standard themselves. We are commanded to forgive like this because God himself continually forgives like this. We keep reminding ourselves of our failures, just as I was painfully aware of my musical faux pas yesterday. But like my daughter, God says, "I didn't notice." It's already been covered. Over and over again, as often and for as long as it's needed. That is Good News, indeed!