Sunday, November 16, 2014
Two take away seven
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity.
A mathematical question. What’s seven take away two? Of course, you answer with five. But what’s two take away seven?
For some people that’s a problem. If we have two apples then how can we take away seven apples? It really doesn’t make sense, does it? As far as you’re concerned, there’s no way we can take seven apples away from two.
However, suppose you had two hundred pounds in the bank and borrowed seven hundred. Would that be possible? Well, you know what banks are like: they’d say, “yes that’s fine, but you now owe us five hundred pounds.” You will have to pay back five hundred pounds to the bank as soon as you get it. But notice something crucial here. That debt of five hundred pounds only exists as long as both you and the bank allow it to exist.
Suppose you say “there is no debt.” The bank, of course, will disagree and extract it from you by unpleasant means. Suppose the bank says, “there is no debt.” What then?
You could say, “yes, there is!” and still try to pay back the five hundred pounds. You might be out of pocket, but you may be able to sleep at night. However, would you not rather say, “there is no debt” along with the bank? If that happens then the debt just stops. It no longer exists. It becomes as absurd as taking away seven apples from two apples.
St Peter comes to Our Lord with a question about counting offences and counting forgiveness. Like most of his culture, and ours, St Peter has been brought up in a culture of the bank of blame. Of course, he has been listening to the Lord and understands that forgiveness is important. The problem is, how many times can we forgive before we stop forgiving?
This question loses its power when we agree not to keep count. We can either live our lives by counting what’s wrong, storing up debts and sins, or we can forget about it and move on. If we believe that someone owes us something, then we believe that debt exists. If we believe that debt exists then our own debt must exist. It’s all or nothing. Either all debt can be forgiven or no debt can be forgiven. It’s all or nothing, not one rule for us and another rule for everyone else. If you can take seven from two, then everyone can take seven from two. No exceptions!
It’s the same with sin. Either any sin against us can be forgiven, or no sin can be forgiven, not even our own.
That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy. In fact, true forgiveness can be dreadfully hard particularly when the size of the sin is so great. However, forgiveness must first come from the heart. We have to want to forgive. That way, the process of forgiveness can be started, and God can bring anything that has started to its end. For men, things are impossible. For God all things are possible.
Forgiveness is in the nature of God Himself. We should forgive so that we can be nearer to God and that others can be nearer to God. Forgiveness brings the whole world closer to God and makes it better by making Him more visible in that world. We owe it to ourselves to do that and this is a debt worth repaying!