Tonight we begin our virtual conversation about The Book of Joy, a joint project of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and other collaborators.
We will discuss the first section tonight, but let me give you a taste from a later chapter.
The Dalai Lama, exiled most of his life in India because of Chinese cruelties in Tibet, and the Archbishop, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa following apartheid, are speaking about what forgiveness is and what it is not.
"Forgiveness," the Dalai Lama continued, "does not mean we forget.
You should remember the negative thing, but because there is a possibility to develop
hatred, we mustn't allow ourselves to be led in that direction—we choose forgiveness."
The Archbishop was also clear about this: Forgiveness does not mean you forget what someone has done, contrary to the saying "Forgive and forget."
Not reacting with negativity, or giving in to the negative emotions, does not mean you do not respond to the acts or that you allow yourself to be harmed again.
Forgiveness does not mean that you do not seek justice or that the perpetrator is not punished...
"This is where the power of forgiveness lies—not losing sight of the humanity of the person while responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness.
"We stand firm against the wrong not only to protect those who are being harmed but also to protect the person who is harming others, because eventually they, too, will suffer."
St. Paul put it this way: "Are we continue in sin that grace may abound?
By no means! – or, as one seminary professor translated it, "Hell no!"
Forgiveness does not protect or enable the sin, it removes it.
Forgiveness, even offered countless times, is not a blank check for harmful behavior.
Neither is it weakness.
"Forgiveness is a sign of strength.
Isn't it?" the Dalai Lama said, turning to the Archbishop.
"Absolutely, yes," the Archbishop said with a laugh.
"I was just going to say that those who say forgiving is a sign of weakness haven't tried it."
So it was generous, bordering on absurd, for Peter to suggest doing it seven times—he
was probably exaggerating for effect.
Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times," unless the Greek really means seventy times seven."
If you care which number is correct, you've missed the point.
Remember what we learned last week, when Jesus laid out the multi-step process for
dealing with conflict, from pastor Tom Long:
[This procedure's] most impressive feature is how persistent and time consuming it is.
In this process nobody is written off in haste, no one is fired on the spot, no one slams the door in another's face in rage; on the contrary, a sea of energy is expended trying, time and again, to make peace.
In contrast to the attitudes of the prevailing culture, relationships are of precious and enduring value to the church.
When a relationship is broken, it is worth going back over and over to work toward
The person is always more significant than the problem; Jesus refuses to let sin define the person or dictate the terms or determine the relationship or drive the heart.
Jesus refuses to give sin that much power.
Jesus refuses to let sin fester either in the offender's behavior or in the victim's heart.
If either party cannot let go of it, the relationship is in peril, so there remains the last resort of
drawing a firm, protective boundary: separation for the safety of everyone.
The last step in the Archbishop's process of forgiveness is making the hard decision whether to renew or release the relationship.
In every case, the letting go of forgiveness respects the consequences of the other person's freely made choices.
Love does not insist on its own way is how Paul put it.
Not everyone shares this approach.
Not everyone thinks like God.
But you are not everyone; you are the only person you can control.
Jesus invites you to forgive abundantly, for your own well-being and that of others who are just as incalculably valuable as you are, no matter what they've done.
Jesus invites you to think, and behave, like God.
To illustrate, he tells the crazy story of a king and his slaves.
The enormous power gap is the first clue that this story is about God and us.
Adjusting for today's currency, and assuming minimum wage and a forty hour week, one slave owes the king $34.8 billion dollars.
He says, "Give me time, I'll pay it back."
The king says, "Don't sweat it."
Listening to this, the disciples are giggling and rolling their eyes.
Young Martin Luther is hanging his tonsured head in despair, painfully aware he owes
God a lot more than that.
The newly baptized baby has no idea that she has just won the lottery.
The seasoned church goer has heard it all before.
Even the accountants shakes their heads, because the number is too big to feel real.
Count the stars, God told Abram; so shall your children be.
So our forgiveness is.
God's grace is longer and fuller than the sky.
What is another day worth?
What's the price tag on breath, sunrise, another morning, the gift on the cross?
We cannot wrap our brains around it; it is wrapped around them.
So because the truth is so far beyond us, because God's mercy is so absurdly extensive
and expansive and impossibly expensive, it doesn't feel nearly as real as what our neighbor owes us.
Which is why Jesus turns the story from comedy to cautionary tale.
That same slave, on his way out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him $5,800.
Mind you, that's almost $6000 more than he now owes Visa, who just sent him a statement with no return envelope and a handwritten note that said, "You are worth so much more to us than the billions you no longer owe. XOXO, Your Bank."
How will this fellow treat his coworker who owes him the $5800?
How will you treat the person who has wronged you?
Does what you have received and learned from God change your approach?
Joseph asked his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, Am I in the place of God?
After saying Do not be afraid, as the official representative of the Pharaoh, as the one
who can provide and save, ironically enough, yes he is.
And so is the slave who deserves his $5800.
And so is everyone who has ever been wronged by anyone, including you.
When you have the opportunity to forgive, yes, you are in the place of God.
And word will get back to the king about how you handle that, and the king will honor
your decision: the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7:2)
If you are too good for forgiveness, God won't force it upon you.
Yes, $5800 and 77 times and what so-and-so did to me is a lot to forgive, especially when
you insist on keeping a balance sheet.
Yes, it's hard to let go.
Yes, it's hard to pay it forward.
But good luck paying it back.