We continue in our new Light for the Way series. Our goal is to deepen our focus on scripture. Each week we’ll provide an examination of a biblical reading, being mindful of our shared service to older adults. Thank you for engaging with this series as we draw closer to our Christian Ministry value, and our pledge to seek wisdom through prayer and reflection.
By Pastor Chris Wheatley, Senior Director of Pastoral Care Programming
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how many times must I forgive? As many as seven?” And Jesus answered him, “No, not seven. But seventy times seven you must forgive.” —Matthew 18:21-22
I have now worked for Presbyterian Homes for over 11 years, and I could not be happier to work for an authentically Christian elder care company. But I also think there is some tension between those terms and the approaches they represent.
In Christianity, people often come looking for the rules. "How can I be happy? What does God want from me? What must I do to be saved?" We tell them that there are hardly any rules, that Jesus summarized all of it in two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. That what really matters happens not in a legal code, but in their hearts.
In elder care, people often come because they have good hearts. They want to take care of people who matter to them. They want to show love to a family they haven’t met yet. And the reality is, in order to do that, they need to abide by literally thousands of policies, procedures, rules and regulations.
At our best, we are able to synthesize these two. We are able to explain that the rules really do matter, and they serve to keep people safe and healthy. We are able to show how good intentions and loving hearts are expressed through reasonable directives.
At our worst, we give the impression that our Christian commitment means that we don’t take the rules seriously. That "forgiveness" means "anything goes." That mercy is a form of weakness, and that it means we might overlook something that would risk the wellbeing of those we serve.
Today’s scripture comes from Jesus’ explanation of exactly how the church that bears his name is supposed to deal with this situation. Jesus tells his followers the exact procedure for dealing with a sin that hurts another believer, from initial grievance all the way to a hearing and punishment if necessary. He is clear that even among Christians, there will be consequences for some things.
But after that, forgiveness. Which is where the real difference comes, for believers then and now. Because as soon as Jesus explains this in our scripture passage, Peter objects, demanding the right to hold a grudge, or at the very least to begin counting the number of offenses, waiting for the day he can finally harbor ill will.
Jesus tells him, and us, that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. That there will be discipline within his church, but not condemnation. Because we know that love and law come from the same source, God, and that both are meant to make the world a better place for everyone.
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