The Forgiveness Myth

How many times have I heard or read about the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in chapter 18 of Matthew?

“Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”

In this story, this is the passage probably most remembered. It is a strong statement. It tells us to basically be always forgiving. The discussion around forgiveness seems to always come back to forgiveness for the sake of one’s self though, especially in the secular world.

I lived in Oklahoma City when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. He killed 168 women, men and children that morning. And, changed the lives of Oklahomans forever and for sure, many others across our country. From about four miles away, the force of the blast lifted me, in my desk chair, off of the floor and back down. The impact of the grief and community response was greater still.

In the aftermath of the bombing, many, many months later, Bud Welch’s story began. You see, he lost his daughter, Julie in the bombing. It is a much more detailed story than I will share here, but Bud Welch got to thinking about another father who lost his son in the same event but at a different time. Bill McVeigh’s son was killed, albeit as a result of his own actions, but Bill McVeigh lost his son just the same.

Bud could not get this off his mind and eventually he reached out to Bill McVeigh as a companion of grief and more to the point for forgiveness. Imagine being the father of one who killed 168 people and the feelings that must come with that.

But here is the question society always seems to frame this business of forgiveness in. Do you forgive for the sake of yourself and your own well being or is it for the sake of those you forgive?

Re-read the parable without the reference to seventy times seven. This is what I was struck by.

This myth of forgiving someone to free yourself of that burden is just that… a myth. It might be true that this does free one of the burden alright, but is that really why we should forgive? I would argue that the parable tells us differently. The lesson is so simple and basic and yet has always been camouflaged by the seventy time seven reference for me.

Jesus does not mention anywhere I can find the act of forgiveness so you can feel better. My friends, we forgive others because we too have been forgiven. That is worth repeating…

…we forgive others because we have been forgiven.



A more detailed accounting of Bud Welch and Bill McVeigh’s story is here:

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