Well, what a week last week was. It was a week when we saw people’s true feelings and concerns on the news. We heard political arguments, we heard about more local lockdowns including Caerphilly and we heard the reaction of people to this.
Lockdown was not fun and it is still difficult to get used to the new normal, which former Prime Minister Tony Blair described as everything that was not normal before. Understandably people in Caerphilly are upset. I heard the voices on the news of people feeling unfairly treated because they had done all the right things but others hadn’t which had led to a local lockdown. They were angry and disappointed.
I would love to say that I didn’t get fed up of other people’s behaviour in lockdown, it wouldn’t be true. When we find things hard we can all judge others a bit for not living in the way that we have been living.
In our readings from the epistle to the Romans (14:1-12) and the gospel of Matthew (18:21-35) we heard about behaviour. In Romans we were reminded that we are not to judge and in Matthew that we are to forgive.
Nothing difficult, nothing that will be hard for us then.. Ahem ! In this week amidst all the news there was one news story that will have an ongoing commentary on behaviour. Yes, Eastenders is back. When Ian and I were in college one of our tutors always said that if you want to know what is really happening in the world, and the kinds of things that trouble others then you should watch Eastenders.
We don’t watch Eastenders, but we used to. One of the things that always seems to happen in Eastenders is that people thrive on gossip and emotions. To be honest from that point of view I think our tutor was right because we all thrive on a good chit chat and on our emotions. This is why it is so hard not to judge and to always forgive.
In the reading from Romans, Paul who wrote the letter made it clear that the community of believers needed to support each other, not to gossip behind each others backs. One of the big problems was that there was food in Rome which would have been sacrificed to pagan gods, and there was a big problem over what a Christian should do. If someone ate the food then others might judge their faith and accuse them of getting involved in pagan life. Some would see eating the food as fine, and judge others for not eating it in case they were seen as rude. Paul pointed out that the main thing was not to judge but to do everything for Jesus. This meant that everything was to be done for God and so it would all be good. We live for Jesus he pointed out, and so we are to live lives were we put Jesus first. If we do this and don’t judge then everything else will fall into place.
It’s not easy being a Christian at times precisely because we aren’t to judge, but whenever we think of judging we need to remember that everything we do, we do for God.
This applies to forgiveness as well. When we forgive someone then we feel better as long as we have managed to forget as well. Bizarre things come along in life and a little while ago I read about a twitter row that came about due to judging. Jim Corr, who was the brother in the band the Corrs some years ago had gone to a protest about having to wear face masks in Ireland. He was questioned for his thoughts by none other than those other great Irish singers, well not really great but … Jedward.
Using lyrics from their songs Jedward and Jim Corr had an argument and they got down to finishing this by using a line from a Corrs song which was, “you’re forgiven but not forgotten.” This can actually be so true of us, we can forgive people but not completely forget. This is not real forgiveness.
In the gospel reading (Matthew 18:21-35) we heard of forgiveness, the need to forgive and to accept that we have been forgiven. In the gospel reading when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive he would have known about a tradition from the rabbis. The tradition was that you could forgive someone for doing the same offence to you 3 times but then no more. Peter probably thought that he was being extravagant by going beyond the three times to seven. Jesus’ response suggests forgiveness that is even more. This is incredible, the answer Jesus gives of 77 times is not meant to be an exact figure. It’s not as if He was encouraging us to keep a forgiveness book where we tally up the number of times we have forgiven someone. The point was that 77 times is a lot bigger than 3, we are to forgive more than any number we can pluck out of the air. We are to forgive and keep forgiving.
To illustrate His point Jesus told a parable that is laughable in some ways. This is because the servant went to the King and asked for his debt to be excused and to be given time to repay. The amount he owed was an impossible amount to pay. A writer called Josephus writing around the time of Jesus calculated the taxes in Judea, Idumea and Samaria as coming to 600 talents, which he said would take 150,000 years to pay off. There was no way that the man in the parable Jesus told would be able to pay off his 10, 000 talents.
The King had been forgiving and basically excused this man whose response wasn’t good at all as he attacked someone who owed him a lot less and made them go to prison. This reminds us that forgiveness, which is so much more than we could imagine, must be accepted and make us want to act differently. We have been given the best gift ever, forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting. God has blessed us extravagantly but this means that we are to be extravagant back. Extravagant in our love for God, putting Him first, extravagant in our love of others and extravagant in the ways that we forgive others even when it seems to make no sense to do so.
We need to not just accept that we have been forgiven, we need to forgive. It seems so annoying at times but we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. It isn’t easy.
Back to Eastenders, it would never work if people always forgave and never held a grudge. Our behaviour then is to be non-judgmental and forgiving. This is not always easy but we know that we do it in God’s strength. In the epistle to the Romans it was clear that we are to support those who are weak in their faith. We are to be there for one another, not judging but forgiving, not disliking but loving. Everything we do and the life that we live is for God.
To get our behaviour right then is to base it on the one who gives us life and who we live for. If we want to know how to live, well it comes from reading our Bible, following the pattern of Jesus, trying to be more like Him. It means making our lives work by asking the question – what would Jesus do and supporting each other in living that way. AMEN