This morning in Romans we read:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
And in Matthew we read:
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
The reading in Matthew started with:
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
18:22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Some say that means that we have to forgive 77 times and others say that’s 490 times: seventy times seven. So, imagine with me, for a moment, if God actually kept score of our forgiveness of each other, the same way that we keep score of how others have wronged us. How would that ledger look? Do you ever make it to forgiving someone 77 times for one offence? Ever?
And then imagine if God was as quick to pass judgment on us as we pass judgment on others. Romans asks us today, why do we despise each other? Some versions say “treat them with contempt”, others use the word “belittle” or “look down on”, and still other versions say “set at naught”. To set at naught means to treat as of no account, to disdain, to hold in disregard, to treat with ignominy, to hold as insignificant.
A loving Christian is meant to care, deeply, for others: family, friends, church members & neighbors. But when we go into survival mode, that vulnerability and authenticity get shut down. Poets have long claimed that hearts grow cold and become hardened: we treat others with disdain and insignificance. In our attempt to protect ourselves from distress and dull the pain, we divest ourselves of caring and responsibility.
When broken people live together in a broken world, pain is inevitable for anyone who loves. The only way to avoid the crushing pain of a broken heart is to make your heart unbreakable. So, we become the person that says “I don’t care” or “whatever”, when the luxury of giving ourselves the time and space to feel is threatened. And much of this despising or indifference towards others comes from looking inwards at our hurt and pain, and the defense mechanisms that we naturally have to block this out: just stop feeling. And so our hearts become hardened. If you choose the becoming “unbreakable”, you will also choose to lose your compassion.
What is critical to remember is when a heart becomes hardened, the brain has its own reasons for pressing down upon vulnerable feelings. To feel sets the person up to get hurt and the brain is geared towards survival at all costs. To bring emotional defenses down, the heart must be softened. The question is how can this be done? For me, personally, forgiveness has played an incredible role. I have repeatedly worked with Ho’oponopono meditation, where you sit and repeat: “I love you, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you.” I’ve used this focusing on loving myself, loving others, loving God.
Forgiving and letting go is so much more than just my relationship with other people: a hardening of heart inevitably means I have hardened my heart towards God. And when you forgive yourself and others, truly forgiving them, you begin once more to experience God’s love and light in your life.
Jesus knew this: which is why he said we need to forgive an offense 77 times (or 490 if you read the KJV). If we want to be compassionate in this world, we need to allow people into our hearts. People will hurt you. People will take advantage of you. People will manipulate you. Not everyone and not all the time, but some will. And you have two choices: you can either choose to forgive or you can choose to become hard. You can’t have it both ways. And forgiving is a hard practice: for most of us, it is not something we just do once and then we’re done. Hence the need to forgive again, and again.
When we remember the offense that the other person has committed against us, we have to repeat: practicing forgiveness. And for a while we will forget and let it go. But the memory of the hurt and offense will come back again, and we will have to repeat once more. And repeat once again. Not because you are going to leave yourself in a situation where that person will continue to hurt or take advantage of you, but because you are choosing a relationship with God over and above all things.
When you are consciously aware that such-and-such a person is “like this”: let’s say that they always ask you to lend them money and they never pay it back. When you make a decision to forgive them and also to keep that person in your life, you know that you will be exposed to more requests for money that will not be paid back. And then you have two choices:
- You can give them the money, as a gift, freely, with love; or
- If you cannot find it in your heart to give them the money lovingly, you can learn the life lesson of saying “no”. Of learning how to say “no” with love, without attacking them; without putting them down. Just “no”.
But if you give them that money with resentment, it’s like you are putting a curse upon them, because in your heart: you are cursing them and resenting them. If you are going to give, then give with love and joyously. Make it truly a blessing.
1 John 4: 20 reminds us of this truth:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
There’s a lot of emotional intelligence involved in being a true Christian! You have to set loving boundaries in your life: where you love yourself enough to be true to yourself, and yet you love God enough to be willing to do the work to be open, vulnerable and authentic. We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our pain and hurt. That’s mine – my precious. I’m holding onto that pain. I’m not letting it go, I’ve been carrying it around for so long now, it’s part of who I am.
We say we love God, but then we’re not willing to let go of our judgments and prejudices against others. Paul says in Romans 14: don’t judge those who are vegetarians, or those who eat pork, or those who honor the Sabbath differently from us. Are we supposed to respect the Sabbath on Saturday, or on Sunday? We live in a society where dressing in a nun’s habit is okay, but it’s not okay to dress in a hijab. A society where girls should be allowed to dress anyway they like – but it’s their own fault when they get raped for dressing seductively. If we read Romans 4, verses 2 to 4 from the version The Message, we read:
For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
So who are we to judge another by appearances? Everyone has been invited to God’s table and is to be warmly welcomed. Even those who have hurt us. Even those who have somehow betrayed us. Our accountability before God is individual – I will be judged according to what I have thought, said, done or failed to do in honor of God. You will be judged and held accountable for what you have thought, said, done, or failed to do for God.
I leave us with this parting thought about the way we live our lives, in forgiveness and compassion for all others who are invited to the table:
None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It is God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. (The Message – Romans 14:7-8)