(Adults, the Gospel reading this week includes both a maxim (vv. 21-22) of Jesus and a parable (vv. 23-35). The parable requires quite a bit of context and consideration and I am going to leave it for the older children. It is enough for the 6-9 year old to consider the maxim and what kind of world it imagines.)
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say that when we pray together in his name, he is there with us. What a connection there is between Jesus and us! If we think about Jesus, the True Vine, we can say that when we pray, the sap of the True Vine flows so freely into our branches: from Jesus to us; between you and me. We are together, and he is here with us.
I wonder, who could the sap of the True Vine be?
Last week, we also heard Jesus talk about how to bring people together again after one person has hurt or upset another. If we continue to think of ourselves as branches on the True Vine, what can we say about the flow of sap between two branches who are fighting? Can the sap flow if there is so much anger and hurt? We cannot come together to pray in the same way if something blocks us. We need to follow Jesus' steps to bring back the person who has sinned against us, so that the sap can flow freely again and the True Vine can grow large and strong.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear that Peter has been giving this situation a lot of thought. He wonders,
“Lord, a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Peter knows that a person who upsets him once, could do it again and again. He understands what Jesus says about going to that person and telling them about the problem. But he is thinking about something more. He wonders how often--how many times--he should forgive. What does "forgive" mean? How can we explain it?
Forgive means letting someone who owes us something go away free, without paying back anything more. If someone hurts us, that is not okay. It would be nice to make them pay us back for hurting us. But how can they? Forgiving does not mean that everything is okay, but it does mean we won't let ourselves carry our hurt and our anger around with us anymore. Forgive means to let go of anger and allow the sap to flow freely once more. Why should we have to keep anger? We don't want to go on being angry all the time about the hurt.
That can be extremely hard to do. Can anyone do it? Do we know anyone who forgives?
Forgive is what the Good Shepherd does when he finds his sheep each time it is lost.
Even when the sheep has done it on purpose.
No matter what bad things the sheep has done.
Does the Good Shepherd get angry? Does he spank? Does he give a time out?
Or does he pick up the sheep, put it on his shoulders, and return it again to the flock?
If we forgive, who are we like?
Peter suggests that we forgive 7 times. Seven times someone sins against us, seven times we say, "I forgive you; no longer do you owe me anything; I will be angry no longer. But do it an eighth time, AND THAT'S IT! I WILL NOT FORGIVE!!!"
Is that what Peter is asking? Will that build the Kingdom of God?
In the Bible, the number 7 belongs to God.
It means perfect; it means holy.
Peter wonders if 7 is the right number of times to forgive and to be like God.
“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Seventy-seven? Perfecty-perfect! How perfect is that?
So perfect we cannot even imagine.
What would our poor old world be like, if everyone forgave all the time? Would there be any un-forgiveness? Would there be any more anger? I wonder what would happen to sin.
"Forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times," is one of the Maxims of Jesus. This is something that Jesus says to help us build the kingdom. But, come on! Only God is perfecty-perfect. How can we ever forgive like that? Is this even possible on our own?
Jesus knows it is hard for us to forgive. Remember, though, we are branches of the True Vine. We are connected to Jesus. The sap of the Vine that flows in Jesus, flows in us. When we need to forgive another branch, who flows in us all the more strongly? We don't forgive all by ourselves! A branch doesn't grow on its own! We need that sap. And Jesus gives it to us.