Psalm 38, Leviticus 5:1–19, Luke 17:1–4
“Don’t worry about it.”
We sometimes hear these words when trying to apologize or make amends for something we have done wrong to another. Sometimes the person says these words as a veiled acceptance for the apology. Sometimes it was so inconsequential to them that they spent little-to-no time thinking about it after it occurs. Forgiveness is often spoken of in churches, encouraging each of us to forgive wrongs committed against us. Much of the time it is forgiveness towards those we are distant from (physically or by death, for example). Not that this isn’t good. The question is, can we accept apologies and repentance when given?
In this passage in Leviticus, the phrase, “…without being aware of it, but later recognizes it…,” is repeated multiple times. How often have we done something wrong, and only later realized we did it? Sometimes we do something and don’t know that it is wrong, but we do we are to make amends once we realize it. This should be the state of our relationships with one another, if we become aware that we have offended, we make amends. The reciprocal of this is being grace-filled people. Often people will innocently and/or ignorantly hurt us. Often it is actually the remnant of an old hurt that someone has triggered, yet we hold this new person (and new offense) against the old pain. We then go down the grace-less path of thinking, “they should have known better,” or something like that. Or, if something is so obvious an offense, we are offended both by the offense and their ignorance (or we sometimes say their callousness). God doesn’t operate that way, which this passage in Leviticus shows. If God doesn’t behave that way, why would we?
Yet, it seems that many people inside and outside of the church are unable to forgive and unable to accept apologies and/or repentance. We can look at a lot of media stories where people said what is now viewed as stupid and harmful, yet at the time they said it, it was well within the norm. Take the show Seinfeld (proudly a comedy show about nothing). It has been running in syndication for years, but viewership is dropping. Millennials and Generation Z do not find the humor in much of it (granted, the humor was of limited appeal anyway), as much of the cultural language that was appropriate and even “sensitive” for the time is now inappropriate and horribly insensitive. Before you say, “they’re a bunch of snowflakes,” or “they need to stiffen up,” or “they need some thicker skin,” or “they’re just looking for something to be offended by,” think about your own response. Instead of feeling attacked or put on the spot, realize that you are behaving the same way they are…offended.
There is a huge cultural change occurring, and some of it, though painful, is actually good. Ultimately, we are headed toward a kinder and gentler nation (truly). It’s just that right now we’re using hammers and chisels on each other getting off the high spots, and it hurts. There are some exceptions to the general tendency towards kinder and gentler (and it isn’t just one name, either). The reality is that our cultural and generational language is getting a long-needed overhaul. Really, this is a good thing. What has happened, and many of us are unaware of it, is that offenses, abuses, oppression, suppression have become such a part of our cultural and generational language that we are often unaware what message we convey with the words we use. The reason this is important to truly understand is that while we go through this paradigm shift we are going to offend each other…a lot.
This is why having a personal understanding and responsibility regarding grace, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation is so important. We can keep being offending. We can keep remembering the hurts and offenses, or we can be like Jesus.
When Jesus is speaking to the disciples (similar words can be found in Matthew 18:6–9, 18:21–22) there is an underlying question of, how much forgiveness is enough? When we ask that question we are speaking from the flesh (or sin) nature, rather than the saved (or sanctified) nature. John Ortberg (Pastor, Menlo Church) proposes that Christians use up more grace than “sinners” because grace is God’s power at work in us. So, use that grace with one another! God’s grace is unending! As long as you keep using it and keep asking for it, God will keep pouring it! Remembering who offended us and how is easy (and natural), it’s what we do afterward that shows whether it is us or Jesus who is the Lord of our lives.
1) An unspoken part of Jesus’ directive on repetitive forgiveness is directed at the forgiver: accept and forgive wholeheartedly. Have you ever “forgiven” someone, but held back from wholeheartedness by saying (in effect), “trust but verify”? If you hold back on forgiveness by even the tiniest portion, have you really forgiven?
2) There is always a balance of forgiveness versus safety. Is it really “versus”, though? In this context, repentance and forgiveness are tied together. How does that work in your life?
3) What does the passage in Leviticus show about God’s perspective of human nature?
FD) What is the difference between apologizing and repenting?