Mark 11:25 (NRSV)
25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
In the past, I have thought this verse meant that forgiveness of others was a condition we needed to fulfill in order to be forgiven ourselves. That God wouldn’t even consider forgiving us unless we forgive others. And so I have wrestled with this passage. As a Lutheran, I have “by grace we have been saved,” firmly ingrained in my mind! Didn’t God powerfully show us that we are loved and forgiven through Jesus- once and for all? That we are forgiven, “not by our own merit?”
But this morning a new understanding came to me:
When we forgive others, the forgiveness we have already been given is more readily received and comprehended by us.
When we are unable to forgive others, we inwardly doubt that God can forgive us. We stubbornly believe, “I am so angry that I will never forgive this person!” And deep in our thoughts, we worry, “God must be so angry, how could God forgive ME?” Forgiveness is being delivered in huge gift packages to our doorstep, but we won’t open the door to bring them inside. We feel unworthy. But forgiveness has been delivered even as we ARE unworthy (Romans 5:8). We don’t need to forgive others to be forgiven. We need to forgive others in order to open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness, already so mercifully granted.
We can never fully comprehend all that Jesus endured to show us how much God loves and forgives us. But when we are able to give the sacrificial, self-giving mercy of forgiveness- even when the forgiven one is unworthy- we might understand how much more Jesus went through for us. Forgiveness is supposed to hurt, so that in some small way we begin to understand what our own forgiveness cost. The more we learn to treat others with loving-kindness and mercy, the more we will appreciate what God is doing for us, with infinite love!
In our Lenten practice of forgiveness today, let’s imagine the gifts of forgiveness waiting on our doorsteps. May we open ourselves to receive these gifts by forgiving others and recognizing our own unworthiness. And as we feel the discomfort of sacrifice and self-giving mercy for others, may we more fully appreciate these precious gifts of forgiveness from God.
Our symbol is a gift box. God has given us the precious, priceless gift of forgiveness, shown in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. May we learn to forgive others with mercy and love, and in turn, open our hearts to more fully receive and comprehend this gift of forgiveness ourselves.
Merciful and forgiving God,
I am so unworthy of your forgiveness. Thank you that I humbly know you have forgiven me anyway, as you have shown us through Jesus. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me, as I recognize how much I have hurt you. Change my stubbornness into willingness when it is difficult for me to forgive someone. May I release anything that keeps me from graciously forgiving others, and from experiencing your merciful love and forgiveness for me. Amen.