Last week, I read through the grocery ads, made my lists and planned my coupons. Sometimes I will divide up my needs between as many as four stores in order to take advantage of sales and coupon match-ups. This particular week, there was a one-day sale that put Oscar Mayer P3 Protein Packs at $1 each; having a great coupon, I was going to be able to get two of these for FREE! I was pretty excited about this, as I wouldn’t ever pay much for such a simple (and overpriced) product, but was looking forward to being able to stash a few of these in my fridge for good snacks on busy days.
But then I saw the sign. Stuck over the price tags for each variety of this product was a bright pink paper stating ‘This flavor not included in ad pricing’. I was frustrated and irritated. So I then started looking around for whatever flavors were included in the ad pricing. Nowhere to be found. No second location. No empty rack. Nothing.
I was angry. Stupid and trivial as it was, I felt taken advantage of and lied to. So I finished my shopping and quickly left. I haven’t been back. Yet.
This is a stupid thing to hold a grudge over, a childish and impulsive response toward something that isn’t even particularly important. I felt entitled to something because it was in the ad.
I’ve long said that I don’t know how to hold a grudge. Oddly, sometimes I’ve wished that wasn’t true because it is so counter-cultural and, perhaps, I would better protect me from hurt if I was better able to keep those that have hurt me at arm’s length. But I never have. I usually forgive fairly freely, even when I’m still hurting (although it is hard for me to see anything as an apology if it doesn’t accompany a desire to change). This grace, however, rarely extends to corporations (companies or otherwise). It is easy for me to feel wronged by a group, a company, an organization. It is much easier for me to see an individual as a person than to see a corporation as a group of people. I’m sure I am not alone in this, but I think we are often accepting of this, believing that we are somehow exempted from the commandment to forgive because we don’t know the individual in person or we don’t know the name of the person that put the sign on the price tag.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
I hate to say it, but we aren’t. We have a responsibility to forgive no matter what, no matter who. Whether it be the grocery store for seemingly not holding to their advertisements, the waiter for delivering the wrong dish or the food product manufacturer for their choice of ingredients, we are obligated to forgive over and over again. Of course that doesn’t mean you need to continue purchasing their product, but we cannot do this in malice, but instead with forgiveness in our hearts.
Jesus tells us the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. Long story short, a king calls a servant before him to collect the servant’s debt (of 10,000 denarii!!! That’s 10,000 years’ wages!!!), but after the servant begs for patience, the king forgives him the debt and sends him on his way. The servant then immediately goes to find a man that owes him money, only 100 days’ wages, choking him and demanding his due. The man begs for mercy, but the servant refuses, throwing him in debtors’ prison until he pays his debt. The merciful king catches wind of the servant’s behavior; rightly, he is furious and “hand him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (which will be never, given the size of his debt). He then goes on to say that this is how our Heavenly Father will treat us unless we forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.
So, yeah. We are not excluded from forgiving people because there is more than one of them. Two people together, three people together, a thousand people together. Unless we forgive them, our Heavenly Father will not forgive us.
When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, how do you interpret “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”? Until recently, I always interpreted that ‘as’ to mean ‘while.’ It was a request for God to forgive, while, at the same time, we went about forgiving those around us. However, I’m able to see this differently now. While the former may not be untrue, it is also accurate to interpret the ‘as’ to mean ‘in the same way as.’ We request forgiveness from Him in the same manner as we forgive those who sin against us. And, according to Matthew 18, that is what we will receive.
The good part of all this is that God’s mercy is endless, which is pretty miraculous, given the depth of our sins against Him. He is willing and able to forgive any and all of our transgressions. It is our responsibility, therefore, to forgive wildly and freely, without keeping score or being selective in the objects of our mercy. We are all forgiven beyond the depths of even our imagination and, through the Holy Spirit, we can also forgive beyond the depths of our imagination.