Reflections on Matthew 18:35
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. Matthew 18:35
I wonder if the parable is over. Did it end as the chamber doors closed and the man who received mercy but showed no mercy was taken away – gone, until the unpayable is paid in full?
If so, the final words are spoken by Jesus to His disciples. They are hard words, piercing words, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you…” If Peter wanted an answer to his question, he got it. “Lord,” he’d asked, “how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?”
“No, Peter,” Jesus said by telling the story. “Forever times.”
We forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
It’s as if Jesus said, “My heavenly Father has chosen to do the impossible for you. Do the impossible for others and live. Not because you ‘ought’ to but because mercy has touched your heart and mercy is what you do – always.”
But maybe the parable isn’t over.
Maybe the scene is still playing out. Maybe these words belong to the King as he stands there, the wicked slave gone, his anger subsiding.
“It’s not supposed to be this way,” he tells the people in his chamber. “I took the debt myself – at great cost. I did it because it’s what compassion does. It’s what mercy does. We forgive. We love. It’s the Royal Law of my Kingdom. It is the way of my Father because it is who my Father is.
“Who doesn’t know this?” he said, bewildered.
“When mercy enters your heart,” he went on, “it changes your heart. It becomes your teacher – showing you how to do as it has been done for you. This man – did we not see him rejoice and sing? But I tell you, mercy never entered his heart. He despised it. He beat a man nearly to death.
“Open your heart, my friends, and let My Father’s mercy in. If you do, and if you do it with all your heart, you will love as you’ve been loved. You’ll forgive as you’ve been forgiven. Mercy will reign inside you. You’ll know it. You’ll feel it. But mark my words, if you do not, what happened here today…
“Will also happen to you…”
* * *
Ricky was staring out the window – a line of tears streaking down both sides of his face. He’d pushed his food away and sat there like he’d climbed back into the nightmare all over again – the film replaying, the emotions stabbing his insides. We sat there awhile, not saying anything.
“My pastor told me to give him to Jesus,” Ricky started. “What happens now is between him and the Lord. Not me and him. Not anymore. That part is done. But pastor said, ‘You be careful. Sin is crouching at your door.’”
“In what way?” I asked.
He turned toward me, refusing to dry his face. “He kept saying, ‘Don’t you dare walk away, Ricky. You deal straight, you hear me? You bury hate? It will come back. You bury resentment? It will come back. You bury unforgiveness? It will come back and follow you wherever you go. What you were is what you’ll become and a whole lot worse. You deal straight, Ricky. Don’t walk away.’
“’So how am I supposed to do that?’ I asked. ‘He’s dead.’
“’Do your business with Jesus,’ he told me. ‘You take your baggage of the past and lay it on the cross. That’s what we do. We lay the burden down. We lay the hate down. We lay the bitterness down. We say, “Lord Jesus, as You forgave me, I forgive my father. You paid my debt. You did for me – so I do for him.”’
“I told pastor, ‘Makes no sense to me. You know ‘bout my nightmares. You know about judgment day. You think he’s getting through that?’
“’That’s none of your business,’ he said, and said it strong.
“’But,’ I asked, ‘if the Lord won’t show him mercy now, why should I?’”
“Pastor said, ‘I’ll tell you why. I’ll make it real simple for you, Ricky. Did Jesus die on that cross for you? Did He forgive you?’”
“I said, ‘Yes, sir.’”
“’Then you forgive. End of story. How the Lord deals with your father is up to the Lord. But as for you and your house – you serve the Lord. You got that?’”
“I didn’t say anything at first so he started right back up, ‘Don’t you dare walk away. You face this, you face this now. You give your father to the Lord and do right by Him. If you don’t, I promise you – life’s gonna be hard for you Ricky. You do, and you’re free. You break the cycle once and for all. It’s your choice.’
“’I want that,’ I told him, and I meant it. ‘Not just for me. I want it for my girls. I want it for my grandkids. I don’t want what my dad did, or what I did, to be what they do.’
“He said, ‘Then ask the Holy Spirit to come and help you. Ask Him to do what you can’t do and give your father back to God. Then stand back and watch what He does. He will do like He did when He saved you. He will do like He did when He took that guilt off your soul. Just do it the right way.’
“‘What way is that?’ I asked.
“‘Do it with all your heart,’ he said. So that’s what I’ve been doing. It hasn’t happened yet. Probably won’t till I stop having these nightmares.”
“But your pastor’s right. It’s what you need to do,” I interjected.
“Yes sir, I agree. And I’m thinking I’m not gonna send the letter to Esther and Dora ‘til it’s over – ‘til the Lord has given me peace between me and my dad.”
I nodded and told him it made sense to me. He promised to send me the rest of the letter when he finished and I, in turn, promised to pray for him every day. He seemed appreciative and, for countless reasons, life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other for a few months. We talked on the phone a few times but, mostly, we stayed in touch by texting each other a few times a week.
Then one day, in the mail, I found a letter from him. “Prayers answered!” he wrote. “It’s time I send this letter to my girls. Read it, let’s meet, then off it goes! Be blessed, Ricky.” Behind his note were two handwritten pages that I couldn’t wait to read. But, most of all, I couldn’t contain my joy for Ricky. The long, hard road between him and his dad was now safely in the hands of God.
That night, after he hit me, your grandmother spoke truth to me, “Don’t let him change you, Ricky. That happened once, don’t let it happen again.” It was hard. I didn’t see him again ‘til he was laid out in the church. I’m going to be honest. I was angry. I could feel hate churning inside me like the old days -- hate for what he did to me – hate for what he did to our family.
I went to my pastor. He told me the same thing your grandmother did.
When I began writing this letter, I had one thing in mind. I wanted you to know the truth about what I did and what kind of man I am. The men in our family – dating back generations – have done wrong. Especially me. More than anything, I want it to end with me. I want to break the cycle right here, right now, so your kids don’t do what we’ve done. That’s my prayer to God.
I’m not asking you to forgive me.
I’m not asking you to love me.
But I am asking you to stand with me. Pray the Lord sets our family free. Free from hatred and violence. Free from being one thing on the outside and another thing on the inside.
As for me, I choose to do what your grandmother told me to do. I’m clinging to Jesus. If He could forgive me for what I’ve done, then I choose to forgive my father for what he’s done. I choose to be outside what I am inside and what I am inside to be what I am outside. And I pray to God, one day, when I’m stretched out in front of that church, you girls will say of your father. “He did it. He broke the cycle. And he did what we never thought he could do. He loved us – with all his heart.”
And I do.
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