We forgive those who trespass against us, don’t we? I have been wondering about this as I have discussed the topic of church community life over the past few days with several people with similar frustrations but in different communities.
Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy in his essay, “The Mystery of Forgiveness,” points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father’s forgiving us is contingent on our forgiving those who trespass against us. However in most of the other passages in the New Testament relating God’s forgiveness to our forgiving, God forgives first, and we forgive as a consequence. This is not a contradiction; it is a mystery. St. Paul says, “...forgiving one another just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32). And “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). And in Romans, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
Similarly, our Lord’s parable of the man who owed his Master 10,000 talents begins with the Master forgiving the servant this huge debt merely because he begged Him. At the end of the parable, Jesus associates the Master in the parable with “My Heavenly Father,” just in case we don’t get it: Our Heavenly Father first forgives us our great debt. However, the story is not over. The experience of forgiveness implies consequences. The same Grace that forgives also transforms the forgiven one. But this transformation must be cooperated with. That is, we must bear the fruit of forgiveness, which is forgiveness. (What do you get from a pear tree but pears or an apple tree but apples?)
When the servant forgiven of his great debt could not himself bear just a little of the fruit of forgiveness on behalf of his fellow servant who also owned him a debt (a much smaller debt), this stinginess affected his relationship with His Master. And the remainder of the parable is painful to read:
“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have compassion on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, form his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Notice the Father forgives first. But then we must also participate in perpetuating that forgiveness; otherwise, somehow we are no longer able to participate in the original forgiveness. Put another way, God graciously and lovingly gives us opportunities to participate in His Life and Grace by giving us fellow servants of Christ who owe us what they cannot pay. Our fellow servants of our common Lord owe us love, owe us kindness, consideration, friendship, understanding; and very, very often they cannot pay.
But this is a set up. God wants so much for us to share in His Life, in His Grace, in His Forgiveness that he sees to it that we are surrounded by men and women as weak as we are. I think the experience is called Salvation.