“Be patient with me!”

‘The man fell at his master’s feet. “Be patient with me,” he implored, “and I will pay you in full”’ (Matthew 18.26 REB)

This parable of Jesus tells of a servant who had been embezzling funds from his king. By the time he was discovered he owed a sum of ten thousand talents. I’m told that this was several times the annual tax revenue of the province of Judea.

What sort of self-deception could persuade the servant that he could ever repay such a debt? And yet that’s what he asked for: time to repay. But his master was wiser. He simply forgave him the whole debt.

I wonder how many times, when people ask God to forgive their sins, what they’re really asking for is more time to repay. ‘Be patient with me, Lord. I’ll reach your standard if you just give me time. I will. I promise.’ But God is wiser than we are. He knows our weakness far better than we do. Comforting though it might be for us to hold onto the illusion of our own perfectibility, we have to humble ourselves, tell the truth, and trust ourselves to the indestructible love of God.

Father, I have tried many times, but I haven’t succeeded in making myself perfect, in love or in anything else. I have to work very hard, even with your help, to make a small change in my character, especially now that I’m sixty and have had so many years of practice being selfish and self-centred! All I can do day by day is ask you to forgive me for my sins and strengthen me to do better tomorrow. But the Good News tells me that you will answer that prayer. Thank you for that, and help me not to forget to pass that forgiveness on to those who have wronged me. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Exodus 5:22 – 7:25, Matthew 18:21-19:12, Psalm 23:1-6, and Proverbs 5:22-23)

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Strictly Between Yourselves

Jesus: ‘ “If your brother does wrong, go and take the matter up with him, strictly between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others with you, so that every case may be settled on the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the congregation; and if he will not listen even to the congregation, then treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector…” ‘

‘Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often am I to forgive my brother if he goes on wronging me? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “I do not say seven times but seventy times seven.” ‘ (Matthew 18.15-17, 21-22 REB)

When someone hurts me, the last thing I feel like doing is going to talk to them about it. I’d rather gossip and complain about them to my other friends, or keep it all locked up inside and then fume about it. Neither of these approaches will solve the problem, because the two people who have the problem are not talking to each other.

Jesus gives us different guidance. First, go by ourselves. No doubt this will involve listening as well as talking. Often the other person will be unaware of what they’ve done. Sometimes there will be some awkwardness, maybe even some resistance. But with prayer and good will, there can also be healing.

If not, then Jesus counsels involving others. This is not an institutional response. Other translations use ‘tell it to the church’, but the REB is right to use ‘congregation’. The New Testament churches were small groups that met in houses. The members knew each other intimately. Getting a few other close friends involved could help the healing process. Jesus knew it wouldn’t always work, but it would have a better chance of working than the other two options mentioned earlier.

Finally comes forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the hurt is instantly healed — that takes longer. It means I decide to act in love toward the other person, not in vengeance. This of course is how God treats me, as the next passage will spell out. Jesus makes the connection explicit in his prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Lord Jesus, you knew we would not find this easy. That’s why there are so many hurts in relationships. Help us find a way forward through talking and listening, through compassion and forgiveness. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible passages are Exodus 4.1 – 5.21, Matthew 18.1-22, Psalm 22.19-31, and Proverbs 5.15-21)