The Lost Teaching of Jesus

Written by Corey Magstadt : January 3, 2008

Our church has been studying the Sermon on the Mount for the last year or so. This Sunday, we arrive at this delightfully ignored teaching of Jesus:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

The immediate context for these verses is the Lord’s Prayer, where one of the petitions that we are to pray is that God would forgive our sins/debts/trespasses in the same manner that we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiveness always sounds great when I’m the one needing forgiving. But when I am the one who has been wronged, it’s not nearly as exciting. Thankfully, Jesus can’t REALLY have meant what it sounds like he means. My forgiveness can’t be in some way dependant upon my willingness to extend forgiveness to others.

Maybe Matthew left off Jesus’ forgiveness exception clause. That’s the part of Jesus’ teaching that says something like, “I understand that you have been really hurt by [insert person/event]. You can skip forgiveness this time.” I think I often do this, thinking that Jesus doesn’t understand what I’ve been through and how hurt I am. He wouldn’t expect me to forgive in these circumstances.

But Jesus did understand the hurt and betrayal that we experience. The Last Supper is a beautiful picture of this. Jesus hands a piece bread to Judas, his betrayer, as he talks about his own blood being poured out for the forgiveness of sins. That bread is an offer of forgiveness, an offer of reconciliation, even before Judas has committed the act of betrayal.

If I want to try and follow Jesus’ teachings, forgiveness is a necessary component. However, there are still a lot of questions that are raised. Feel free to offer your insights.

  • How many times do I need to forgive the person that continually wounds me? Jesus answered that one: every time, as often as they sin against you.
  • But what if the person isn’t sorry? What if they don’t admit their wrong? How do I forgive? What kind of restored relationship can I have with someone who injures me relentlessly without remorse? How far do I need to go in order to satisfy my role in the process of reconciliation?
  • What does forgiveness entail? What does it look like? Is it more for me, or for the other person, or for the community as a whole?

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11 Responses to “The Lost Teaching of Jesus”

  1. Maria Kirby on January 3rd, 2008 6:48 pm

    In my experience, most of the forgiving I need to do happens with persons who are not sorry, or at least aren’t sorry enough for me. Forgiveness is hardest with those whom I am most vulnerable to.

    Forgiveness for me starts with letting go of revenge. Revenge can be as simple as I’m going to yell at them for how they have hurt me. Jesus invites us to take our revenge out on him; to hurt him instead of whomever hurt us. This is the cross.

    Forgiveness also tends to involve telling the person who hurt me what they did that hurt. Otherwise we remain victims, and succumb to self-righteousness.

    Forgiveness also entails doing good in return. By doing so we break the cycle of evil and build a bridge for communication and restored relationship.

    For some people who just don’t ‘get it’ as to how they’re hurting me, I need to change my response/vulnerability. An example would be if someone started talking negatively, I would need to change the topic, take some space, or do something that would protect myself from internalizing the negative messages that were being communicated. I need to take some responsibility for putting myself in harms way.

    Forgiveness means a willingness to take risks. If someone is truly sorry, the only way a relationship can be restored is through risk. Wisdom is necessary to determine whether or not the risk is appropriate, too much, or too little. I don’t think there is a one size fits all here.

    If I can’t forgive someone else, I find it hard to accept forgiveness.

    Transference can be a means by which we can find forgiveness and give forgiveness when those who have hurt us have past out of our lives. Certain people ‘remind us’ of an experience or person who hurt us in the past. On some level they represent our wounds, and we respond to them out of proportion to present circumstances because of this often unconscious connection. By forgiving these representatives as if they had injured us in the past, we can more easily let go of past injuries. It may be easier to go through the forgiveness process with a representative than the original perpetrator because it may be possible to move to a restored relationship with the representative when it might be impossible to do so with the original perpetrator.

  2. Isaac on January 3rd, 2008 9:24 pm

    Corey, I read somewhere — I can’t remember where now — that the primary significance of my act of forgiving is not that the other person is now “off the hook,” so to speak. Rather, it is that I am now free from carrying the burden of a grudge. To withhold forgiveness poisons my spirit; to forgive frees me. (I think it was said better than that.) Is it also possible that, if I do not forgive someone else, I have created a “blockage” in my heart, so that I am not able to receive God’s forgiveness? In any case, thank you for your reflections on forgiveness.

  3. davidM on January 4th, 2008 6:38 am

    Where does trust factor into this? If so and so did this to me, and I forgive them but don’t trust them anymore have I really forgiven them? Take a person who is a chronic liar, and although you forgive them, the next time a situation arises and you chose not to believe them because they have lied so many times before… did you forgive them?

    Or is trust reinstated instantly with forgiveness.

    Further more is it possible to be in a relationship with someone who, although you forgave them for sins, debts, trespasses and you don’t trust them to honestly say that you’re not holding onto traces of bitterness or resentment or whatever you want to call it.

    Just something to chew on.

    While you chew on that, chew on this… should Jesus trust us?

  4. graham on January 4th, 2008 7:26 am

    I tend to understand this in a Jubilee context. If forgiveness is then about granting and experiencing liberation, I guess it makes sense that we can only receive it if we are willing to give it.

    Someone described it once as the river of God’s grace. By jumping in, we receive it. However, it we are not willing to be part of the flow, we thus either have to jump out, or show that we have jumped into the wrong river in the first place.

    I’m not sure that I’d now understand it in quite the same way, but I remember finding it quite helpful when I first heard it.

  5. Heather W. Reichgott on January 4th, 2008 1:11 pm

    A very thought-provoking reflection. I think these questions look different when we consider them in the context of a whole community.

    A person who is relentlessly harming others rarely only harms one person. For that one person to forgive, without working with the rest of the community, actually does violence to the rest of the community.

    For example, if a husband relentlessly batters a wife, and there are children, the children suffer too (even if they aren’t being beaten themselves.) If the wife just forgives him and lets him keep beating her, she is complicit in her children’s suffering. Responsibility as a mother, not just self-respect or “grudge-holding”, demands more assertive action in that case.

    Another example: If a church is participating in bigotry, and an individual who suffers from that bigotry decides just to forgive and take no action against the bigotry, that person is then complicit in horizontal violence against others who suffer from bigotry.

  6. Maria Kirby on January 4th, 2008 8:55 pm

    I have learned recently that sometimes inflicted consequences;punishments for breaking the rules, are a form of mercy. The inflicted consequences are less than what we deserve. The consequences are necessary so that who ever is hurting others has a motivation to change their behavior.

  7. Corey on January 6th, 2008 1:46 pm

    Thanks for the interaction everyone. I took the liberty of referencing a number of your comments during our sermon/discussion this morning. Your thoughts were very helpful in shaping our conversation.

  8. mountainguy on January 6th, 2008 5:38 pm

    Hi people

    Forgiveness is the God’s way. I mean, is the way we should behave, as christians we’re suposed to be. Off course, is not very easy, maybe not very fun…, nobody told us it was easy.

  9. Michael Cline on January 7th, 2008 8:32 am

    In Sunday School, I always learned to “forgive and forget.”

    In college, I became “educated” and was told that “forgiveness” and “forgetting” are not necessarily tied together. We shouldn’t forget. We can’t forget. But we can forgive.

    In the psychologists office, I listened to a man ramble on about the connection between the two, ultimately leaving it up to me to be a mix of open and closed to my oppressors.

    In the New Testament, I lose myself in the words of Jesus. My identity is formed by vast, yet somehow more simple, story.

  10. jason77 on January 10th, 2008 8:50 pm

    wow, I just came across this after writing a post called F Bush….what timing! Great post and great insights

  11. Casey Ochs on January 12th, 2008 9:26 am

    Personally, I prefer the King James translation of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” When we forgive we are canceling a debt, something owed. By forgiving those who have hurt us we are saying to them “you no longer owe me anything; you don’t owe me an explanation, a repayment, or an apology. You are free, and now so am I since I am no longer bound by my expectations from you.”

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