I have been meaning to write about forgiveness but something was missing. I did not know it but God knew it. I was frustrated that I was falling behind on being regular with blogs in part because when I write something I am taught something. But as I continue to learn what it is to cooperate with God’s work, I continue to see that the Christian life is composed of what is caught as much as what is taught. True particularly with me on the call of forgiveness with case in point.
Nearly 20 years ago my life was devastated by the willful actions of someone. It altered me in my family, mental health and vocational aspirations. I begged this person to stop and made predictions about how her decisions would affect people we cared about. This person did not listen. My narrative was that I was the victim, this person was the victimizer and never owned up to the sin.
Until last week. Just about out of nowhere there was a disclosure that what was done to me was wrong and without excuse. Even more, there were several admissions that my predictions on the damage to our common interests were correct. If I had scripted an apology for this person it wouldnot have been good. For my spiritual well being I have asked for God’s help over the years to apply forgiveness but this depth was a tsunami. This person needed it and I needed it too.
And so here we are on my commentary series on the Sermon On The Mount.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:13-15).
I have heard the term “Marcan Sandwich” from theologians about how Matthew writes. He would write about Subject A, Then B, Then C which was related to A. But really the teachings of Jesus had a them in those passages with that pattern if you apply the right key of interpretation (hermeneutics).
Right in this passage there is what I would call the “Forgivness Sandwich”. To be led not into temptation, or the occasion of sin, is predicated on doing what God commands: forgive. So too is being delivered from the evil one. Why? Because in forgiving you are forgiven and in such a state of grace in that path that your life is pure and you are ready for the testing even if you are tempted. The big picture is that walking in forgiveness as one forgives is like carrying the banner of God’s grace in front of you and behind you. And such banners are tied to ones spirituality with the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus that illuminates the agenda of God’s plan of reconciliation to the extent we are honest.
Too much theological wording? Fine. Think of forgiving those who trespass against you as breathing out the toxin of carbon dioxide: if you hold unforgiveness in it will kill you just the same. More to this point, holding your breath, like unforgivness, in and not breathing out also keeps the life giving touch of forgiveness like oxygen out as well.
Another point is that there is no iffy-ness in the words of Jesus except on whether disciples want to be obedient or not. “When they sin against you” is a given. In this world we are sinners and we sin against each other as a kind of job description. But the good news is that if you confess your sins your Father will forgive your sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
That is God’s beautiful job description too.
So recently I breathed out regarding even more of the poison of unforgiveness. The morning after, I saw my narrative differently. The story had changed circumstantially. The forgivness I had extended was hightened into a dimension I lack words for. It was disorienting because the call of forgivness is not conditional on if the other person is repentant but it happened anyway. Doctrinally it is a “cherry on top”. I suppose God was sovereign about the timing of it all for both parties. The lesson is that in the realm of our hearts we are responsible for ourselves and not on how well the other party owns up to their part.
So what is the lesson in even simpler terms for you and I? Forgiveness Sandwich. Bite into it. Savor it. Chew slowly on its brussel sprouts and be revived in its life giving protein.