Dylan Roof is notorious for his murder of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He had told people that he was going to kill a bunch of people, but almost didn’t go through with it because the people of the church were so nice. His family was devastated that he would do something like this with his uncle stating that he would “pull the switch” if he was given the opportunity. Family members of the victims responded in a most unusual way. They forgave him. They urged him to confess his sins, repent, and turn to God for forgiveness. I imagine most of us would be more like the uncle; the family members of the victims sought to live the lessons that Jesus taught.
I don’t know if there is anything harder to do than to forgive someone and really mean it. I have a hard time forgiving people who cut me off in traffic. Yet the example of these family from Charleston, South Carolina shames me for my unforgiving attitudes. Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness and thought he had a clue to lavish forgiveness. “Lord, should I forgive a brother seven times?” “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:22) and followed that declaration with an amazing parable.
In the parable, a king realizes that one of his servants owes him a fortune – ten thousand bags of gold. There is no way that any normal person would have that amount of money and the king ordered that the man and his family along with all of his possessions be sold to satisfy the debt. The debtor pleaded with the king who ultimately had mercy and forgave him that amazing debt. Imagine the gratitude this man must have felt. Then, he saw his next-door neighbor walking by. The guy owed him a hundred pieces of silver. That’s still quite a bit of money, but not ten thousand bags of gold. No matter. He demanded payment of the debt and when his neighbor pleaded with him, he showed no mercy and had the neighbor thrown into jail to pay the debt. Word got back to the king about this guy’s unforgiveness and he was furious. He said something like, “After all I’ve forgiven you, you can’t forgive your neighbor of a much smaller debt? Your forgiveness is canceled. Pay me what you owe or go to prison.” And the guy who had all kinds of forgiveness lost it all and went to prison.
The families in Charleston understood the message of this parable. Oh, they weren’t worried that God would zap them if they didn’t forgive; they understood the message of this parable was that we have already been forgiven far more than any forgiveness we would ever be required to extend towards others. From a Christian perspective, whose actions make more sense: the forgiveness shown by the families in Charleston or my anger at the person cutting me off in traffic? The message of the gospel is all about forgiveness and redemption. Not only did God grant us forgiveness, He paid any penalty, any cost that might be associated with that forgiveness when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus cried out while on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Oh, but that guy cutting me off, he knows what he’s doing. He deserves all the curses I can muster in my denunciation. Perhaps. But what do I deserve for my sins? I have been forgiven so greatly that I need to be able to grant forgiveness and show others the love of Jesus each day. No matter how much I forgive, I could never out-forgive God.
Oh Lord, teach me how to forgive more and more each day. Remind me of how much I’ve been forgiven and let me learn to be more forgiving. Let my forgiveness and mercy towards others draw them closer to You and Your forgiveness and mercy.