In the passage just before today’s Gospel reading, Jesus commands his disciples to rebuke one another if they sin, and to forgive if there is repentance. Seven times a day, he tells his followers, if somebody repents, you must forgive.
My response to this command would have been, “Give me strength!” The disciples say, “Give us faith!”
Jesus seems to downplay the role of faith here, though. Even the tiniest bit is enough, he says. You don’t need more than you have. Instead he emphasizes doing the work that is in front of us. Confronting and forgiving are just a slave’s job, like any other. There’s nothing remarkable, here, no reason for special privilege or reward.
Forgiving is not the same thing as staying in a relationship with somebody who abuses us, steals from us, or belittles us. Forgiving frees us up to live bigger lives. Staying in relationships that are harmful diminishes us more and more as time goes on. We can forgive and still leave. Sometimes the only way to love someone is from a safe distance and with some good boundaries in place.
In the Christian community rebuking and forgiving in love tends not to be the path we follow. We’re much more inclined when we are aggrieved to say, “that’s just _______, bless her heart.” This may seem like forgiveness, but it is really holding one another in our sins. It doesn’t confront, and therefore it doesn’t allow for repentance.
Where we truly, out of our own vulnerability, bring what has hurt us or offended us to another person’s attention, we’re doing the work of the Kingdom. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always work out well, but it’s what we’re meant to be doing as slaves in God’s lavish realm of authentic love.