Forgiveness is a difficult topic. It’s complex and when you think about it or discuss it often feels like it creates two new questions for everyone you feel that you have answered. It can also be an intensely personal subject and I have encountered many that fear opening up on the subject because of the fear of real or imagined expectation of the judgment of them by others for how or why or when or if they forgive or do not forgive someone. Let’s face it forgiveness can be very, very hard. We, as human beings have made a sick art out of our ability to be cruel, hateful, sadistic and murderous to one another for just about every reason under the sun and at about every age. The penchant for being cruel has even permeated our faith, the faith based on the one we proclaim as savior and Lord who told us to love one another, even our enemies. Because of that cruelty and the fear of losing power within a faith community, Jesus was crucified by the people of faith that had been given the commandments and it continues on. To try to get people to accept the God of love in Jesus Christ, the crusades were launched and the inquisitions were held, people have been driven from their land and people have been tortured and drowned and burned, hanged and killed in pretty much every imaginable way. So cruelty and evil is utterly pervasive throughout our world. I believe that everyone has been touched by moments of cruelty or the selfishness of others in their lives at pretty much all ages after we begin to interact with others in this word. Those moments, actions or words inflict pain that can last for a lifetime. There are adults whose lives have been dramatically and negatively shaped by bullies in their early school years, who still harbor grudges and find themselves perpetually reliving those painful times. There are those who have fallen prey to abusers, those whose lives have had their hopes and dreams ripped from them financially, those who have been excluded, hated or harmed on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. There are those who have had loved ones taken from them due to the actions of others. Those who have been assaulted, battered and those who have been made to feel invisible. All of these injuries are very real and so many carry those injuries as a seemingly inescapable burden. Injuries that we sustain at the hands of others has been the topic of debate and discussion within our faith since, well pretty much the beginning. Each moment of injury places us at a fork in the path of life that we travel, where we choose which path to pursue. In the fourth chapter of Genesis we hear what has become known as the Song of the Sword, and something about it should sound vaguely familiar. Lamech, a descendent of Cain says to his wives,“Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” One way to seek redress or justice for our injuries or grievances is revenge, that is seeking to inflict equal pain on the one who injured us, and eye for an eye so to speak, and oftentimes we are consumed by anger go off the handle far above and beyond seeking the kind of retribution of which Lamech speaks. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is teaching his disciples and us as we listen in about the other path, the path that offers the chance at the restoration of fellowship, community and relationship. When Peter asks and suggests forgiving seven times he is being generous like, super generous. The rabbinical custom, after all, was to forgive up to three times, and then punishment would befall the individual were he or she to sin a fourth time. (This is referenced in both the first and second chapters of Amos). Peter not only doubles this expected number, but he adds one to it, perhaps knowing that seven is considered the “perfect number” and is the number associated with God. Good ole Peter, always going that extra mile to please Jesus! But Jesus corrects him. It’s not about a defined number or a limit or even a hyperbole saying be “infinitely forgiving” No, Jesus is pointing back to Lamech and points to another path, to the path of forgiveness and the process for restoration as an alternative to never-ending spirals retribution normally operative in the world. Jesus is challenging his disciples to pursue forgiveness with the same intensity that Lamech pursued revenge. When we live for revenge or vengeance, even if it is accomplished, the past is not changed. You have only perpetuated a ripple effect and created hurt and loss in the lives of those innocently connected to the target of your anger. We all wish that bad things had not happened, nor been said, but they have. Do not misunderstand, Jesus is not writing a blank check or get out of jail free cards to oppressors and hanging the injured out to dry, but quite the opposite. Forgiveness, according to Jesus, is not about ignoring the problem or forgetting what has been done. Rather, it is an act aimed with reconciliation and restoration in mind. In the verses immediately preceding this passage, Jesus has instructed those who have been violated to confront those who have done them wrong. Forgiveness is not about a lack of justice; it is instead a way of operating with an entirely different framework of justice. Thus, victims of violence are not being encouraged to forgive and forget and remain in situations that allow the violence against them to continue. Rather, they are being empowered to confront those who have violated them, with their own agency, acting with the full weight and moral authority given to them by the community. I saw an interesting comment while studying this lesson. Kris K. wrote, “Forgiveness is not about somehow magically undoing the pain. By forgiving you are releasing the expectation that someone else is going to fix the hurt you feel inside. ” When we hurt others or sin against others we dig an unfillable hole like the guy in Jesus’ parable that owes a debt that many countries couldn’t have repaid. We talk about the hyperbole of the debt, but this is monetizing the unmonitizable. There is grief, pain and suffering that occurs in many of the sins against others. We hear that in lawsuits but can money really heal the pain in your heart. Does money offer parts of your life back, does it restore innocence. So often the all effects of sin can not be undone. This is not a computer game with a reset button where you mess up, hit the button and it’s like it never happened. People can be punished, people can make restitution, people can make apologies but there is something that still remains, the pain of the event that cannot be undone. forgiveness is the decision that occurs deep in the heart that resolves to write that off to let things be as they were, to allow for relationship. No, when we forgive, God does not hit the “Groundhog Day” reset switch, but what God will do for you is send you miracles, that is by the definition of miracle as-an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something. As we cease living in the past and replaying the nightmares we can become aware of the people and opportunities that are sent by God to be a part of our lives that are nurturing, that restore, that build up. Getting out of the past, which is just a recycling loop, to the present, where the future is unwritten and full of possibilities is a journey that begins in forgiveness. It opens us to others. Think about Joseph and his life and what happened. This guy was very human and so were his brothers. Joseph was annoying and arrogant and obviously spoiled by his father and proclaimed the favorite. Let’s be honest. How many of us are liking this kid at the outset. But wow, his brothers’ reactions were out there with the nuclear option, left in a pit then sold into slavery and telling the father that he had been killed and then showing him bloody clothes? There’s a lot of dysfunction here that goes back to Joseph’s father and grandfather. The temptation to make excuses for all the members of this family abound for all the behaviors, but ultimately it boils down to a downward toilet bowl like spiral of sinning against one another, anger, and retribution. That is until Joseph stops pulling the handle and steps out of the past and reaction and forgives. So much was lost though, actually incalculable loss, much like me man of the parable. Because of the way that each member of this family treated one another and lived as adversaries, they missed the fruits of relationship. Time was lost and opportunities were lost that could never be replaced. Joseph chose to look to the God who had unfolded opportunities before him and to not live for revenge. His brothers were not even honest with him near the end yet Joseph saw the people and things that had nourished him, the emissaries and opportunities and doorways that God had opened before him and to that end allowed him to save his family. Jesus is urging his followers to pursue forgiveness with a vengeance, which is a pretty accurate statement considering Jesus’ allusion to Lamech. What this scripture is about is taking care to see what lengths God is going through, has gone through and will go through to maintain a relationship with each of us. How God has forgiven some massive stuff from us. Forgiven all the things we have done to Jesus by hurting others as Jesus points out in the Gospel and each injury is met with a fierce, courageous mercy, the polar opposite of the revenge of Lamech. What Jesus is asking is for us to do unto others as he has done for us.