Invariably, when this parable is repeated, however, someone will say, “That is not fair.” So the elder brothers are still with us and the logic of sheer justice is stacked heavily on their side. It is not always fair to forgive if forgiveness is judged only on our human plane; but this parable is about God’s grace. Regardless of how you may see it and feel about it, however, that is the nature of our God. Crucify Him, nail Him on a cross, and He will say, “Forgive them …”
Why? Because His ultimate desire is for relationship and not for revenge. It is for reconciliation, not retaliation. God wants us to get it together, not to get even. God’s nature is to forgive, not to deny nor to ignore the past. It is to create a new future for you and with you. You can be free. That is good news isn’t it? That is, until Jesus reminds us that we have been forgiven we ought also to forgive, or we will abort the full process.
Paul said it explicitly, “Forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven you.” God’s forgiving is a model of what our forgiving ought to be. The dynamics are the same. God has shown us the way. You are not perfect but you have been forgiven; so you ought also to forgive. I do not know of anything more important, not only to our spiritual lives, but for our emotional and mental health, as persons and as families as well, than learning the art and experiencing the healing benefits of forgiveness.
I know it is not easy to forgive when you have been hurt. It runs contrary to every ounce of preservation in us. We would rather be like the little boy in Sunday School who was choking another. The teacher stopped him and asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I’m gonna teach him to be kind to one another and share.”
Yet, regardless of the hurt you may cause another by not forgiving, you can not hurt the other more than you are hurting yourself. Unrelieved resentment is like getting yourself boxed into a haunted house with bad memories. It is like a cancerous sore that may or may not cause pain to the one who injured you, but it is eating away at your effective life; and no one can let it go but you. Somewhere along the line you have to be able to sing, “it’s not my father nor my mother, not my early toilet training, my sister nor my brother, nor my husband, nor my wife, nor my child, but it’s me O Lord standing in the need of prayer” so that you can get rid of your pain and be free.
Such forgiveness is not just forgetting about it. It is not excusing or making excuses. That may minimize the pain but also the person. Forgiveness means remembering but being willing to let it go for something better. It means saying candidly, “You have hurt me and hurt me deeply, but I want most of all to restore our relationship, to be with you and to grow in love.” To be sure such grace and willingness to forgive is a gamble. You can not know, if you do not forgive and offer to restore a relationship, that it will not bring pain again, or even more. You can not know in advance that you will not come away feeling even more rejected and empty-handed. In Jesus we see clearly that sometimes you have to go through the pain of dying to get to the resurrection. And, at times, forgiveness requires no less of us than to be able to come back to life with one we have loved and want to love.