September is sliding into apple-picking season here in New England. There are those crisp clear nights that bear a hint of Autumn, and just enough cloud cover to contrast with just-emerging colors. That shift is reflected in the readings of the day; they are a summons to goodness, to forgiveness, to love. Jesus’ description of forgiveness offered “seventy times seven” in Matthew 18:22 is actually an invitation to come beyond where we are and realize the power that rests within each of us. It is a moment, like this time of September, about change.
Forgiveness is not a commodity; it is about communication. Most surprising is that the communication itself is deepening a connection. It is not simply about the forgiven; it is about the forgiver as well. To be the one who forgives, who possesses the wisdom, the strength and the courage to do that, is to be sharing compassion that is birthed in the divine, in the presence of Christ within each of us. It means drawing on grace to find freedom. And that means having a connection with God to draw on. We cannot give what we do not have. Sharing the relationship actually enables forgiveness to find a home in other relationships: knowing compassion in one connection leads to compassion in the next. Considering forgiveness of another means looking at self and being willing to change.
The Forgiver has power and risks the offer of forgiveness. The Forgiver must be observant and genuine, see the need for forgiveness even when no request is made. To forgive does not mean to allow perpetuation of a wrong. Nor does it mean that the Forgiver becomes a doormat. Instead, it means embracing reality: accepting what is. It is about moving comfortably in a universe changed and re-designed, better for all. For example, Tamerlyn realizes that her friend and co-owner is stealing from their meager profits and occasionally takes merchandise. Confrontation leads to bitter conflict. Tamerlyn offers forgiveness, but dissolves the business connection. Over time, a form of friendship is recovered. The benefits of this are profound for the Forgiver: a heart free from anger and a mind and soul unencumbered by the bitterness of the past. Moreover, recognizing and accepting the reality of the situation benefit the Forgiver, too, in moving forward.
The Forgiver facilitates the change, but the Forgiven face different choices. There is no less a sense of change or adaptation, though. Circumstances and situations vary so widely, but there is no doubt that every human hurts self and others on the journey of life. There are deliberate and calculated actions as well as words carelessly, insensitively used, and decisions made with dire uninended consequences. Here, too, self-awareness is critical. Realizing the impact of one’s actions, the capacity one has to harm and hurt, destroy and even decimate another is essential in the process of forgiveness. Without that critical understanding, the acknowledgement of personal responsibility, the full grace of forgiveness cannot be realized. The Forgiver can only communicate so much; the Forgiven must communicate, live a change, to seal that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not like giving a nealy wrapped package; it is about a process of communication that is both deeply personal and necessarily interactive. “Seventy times seven” asks for so much more that a simple act; in so many ways, Jesus was not commanding an action. Instead, Jesus gave an invitation to learning more about the process of communication and becoming a better human being. And that just might mean embracing the many colors of Autumn.