Robert's Ruminations

The thoughts of Revd. Robert, Minister for Emmanuel, Ilfracombe

Remembering to forgive

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was elected to office on an antislavery ticket, an election that precipitated the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln issued a proclamation freeing Southern slaves, and two years later masterminded the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery anywhere in the United States. Lincoln was opposed to all forms of slavery, not least people becoming slaves of their own anger and resentment.

Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, had some trouble with a major general who accused him, in abusive terms, of favouritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that he write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did so, and showed the strongly worded statement to the president, who applauded its powerful language. "What are you going to do with it?" he asked. Surprised at the question, Stanton said: "Send it, of course." Lincoln shook his head. "You don't want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I've written a letter when I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now, burn it and write another." 

Nursing anger or cherishing resentment is dangerous for our health, indeed fatal: it disables us and renders us defenceless when we look for our own sins to be forgiven.

In the gospel, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his brother, then typically, goes on to answer his own question by suggesting seven times. The Jewish tradition of the day, taught that God forgives three times and punishes on the fourth occasion; it was not believed that those who had been wronged by someone’s actions should be expected to be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times. So, according to that tradition Peter's measure is generous; but in contrast, according to Jesus it is radically insufficient. In his reply to Peter, Jesus puts across his understanding from the Old Testament scriptures that just as there was no limit to hatred and vengeance, so among Christians there is to be no limit to mercy and forgiveness.

In Jesus’ story about the unforgiving official, we are told all about the need for forgiveness. As the story goes, when a king calls his court officials to audit the accounts, one shows a deficiency of some ten thousand talents, a colossal sum of money in those days, the equivalent of millions of pounds in today’s world. Obviously angry, the king orders the sale of the debtor and his family into slavery, but the official pleads for time to pay up. The king feels sorry for him and decides to remit the whole of the vast debt. The official, however, learns nothing from his experience. Straightaway, he goes out and calls in his debt from a colleague – it was only a few pounds but the man couldn’t pay, so the official refuses to give his colleague time to pay and instead, he has him thrown into prison. When this heartless behaviour is reported to the king, the grant of full forgiveness is retracted and the unforgiving official is thrown to the torturers.

In this story, we can learn that sometimes, forgetfulness of our own sins leads to lack of compassion. We forget that when our sins have gone unpunished by God, then we should be forgiving of others.

When we take the time to pray, we should always be seeking to remember all those things that we have done that have not been good or worthy of God’s love and trust in us. The purpose of this is not to paralyse us spiritually, but to remind us that we all live in the gracious forgiveness of God. Whoever we are, we must remember our sins because we need to always remember to forgive.

Every blessing,

Rev Robert.

Intimidation and Worth
Difference is a blessing!


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Thursday, 23 January 2020

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