Don Holmstrom, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

How would you define “forgiveness” if you could not use the word “forgive?”

Forgiving Sins

A middle-aged man named Charlie Ryder grew up in Ireland, the son of an alcoholic father.  As a boy, his father verbally and emotionally abused him, leaving young Charlie with low self-esteem and deep depression.

As a teenager, Charlie started his journey to find healing.  In college, he attended Alateen, a 12-step program for young people whose lives were affected by a family member’s alcoholism.  “Alateen,” Charlie says, “gave me a safe space to open up and share honestly about the shame and humiliation I’d felt growing up.”  He began to find peace.   

To completely heal, Charlie decided he would need to forgive his dad.  But how?  He could easily list things “that he hated about his dad.”  But for what was he grateful?  He thought of ways his dad had shown his love, including giving his son “pocket money,” as well as money for Christmas and birthdays.  

But a more important realization for Charlie was discovering his father’s history.  His father grew up in a family of alcoholism.  Both of his father’s  parents were alcoholics.  His father, also, suffered from depression.  Upon learning this, Charlie, for the first time, felt compassion for his dad.  

A few years ago, Charlie and his sister visited his dad in the hospital.  His father was dying.  Near the end of their visit, Charlie’s father took his children’s hands and expressed regret for what he had done.  His final words to them were, “I’m sorry.”  Charlie responded, “We love you, dad.”

At that moment, Charlie says, he knew he had truly forgiven his father “for harming me as a child.”  And then Charlie offers this insight, “Forgiveness is a very personal journey but it can be a wonderful act of self-love.”

Discussion Questions

Can you remember a time you were forgiven for something you had done or failed to do?  How about a time when you forgave someone else?  What did forgiveness feel like?  

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 50:15-21

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

This Matthew text starts with a famous question from Peter and an equally famous response from Jesus.  Then Jesus tells a parable illustrating forgiveness and judgment.

Peter’s question to Jesus might imply that the apostle is uneasy with the notion of forgiveness being unlimited.  Let’s just get by with as little forgiveness of others as we can, Peter seems to say. 

Jesus answers:  Not a handful of times should we forgive, but over and over and over again!  (Note that “seven” is a “holy” number in the scriptural world.  “Seventy-seven” indicates unlimitedness.)

But the parable that Jesus tells also seems to imply a catch: repentance must come before forgiveness.  In fact, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we evoke this idea of repentance before forgiveness: “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Do you see such a connection between repentance and forgiveness?  

On the cross, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Does this imply that repentance must come before forgiveness?  Or is forgiveness a free gift, no strings attached?

Discussion Questions

  • Who is forgiveness for:  the perpetrator, the victim, or both?  How would Charlie Ryder answer this question?
  • Where is God in the process of forgiveness?

Activity Suggestions

  • Write down the word FORGIVENESS on a sheet of paper or white board.  Using each letter of forgiveness, jot down a word that begins with that letter and is connected to forgiveness.  (Ex.  “F” is for “freeing.”)
  • Read aloud the Old Testament text assigned for today.  It’s the conclusion of the long story of Jospeh and his brothers.  You’ll recall that his brothers sold Joseph into slavery.  But because of Joseph’s perseverance and God’s great love for him, he ends up becoming a revered leader in Egypt.  What happens to Joseph and his family due to the power of forgiveness?     

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, through your great love and grace, you continually forgive our sins and bring us to new life.  Help us to receive forgiveness with grace and humility.  And give us the strength and courage, O God, to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  Amen.