The draw to human greatness in this life is virtually irresistible. No, I don’t mean everyone strives identically to be praised by others. But what is true of everyone of us is that regardless of how anyone else may see us, we still want to think well of ourselves. We still want some small slice of greatness in our own eyes. The proof that this is systemic and universal is the great sadness we experience when we fail, or look foolish, or do something stupid, careless or mock-worthy, even when no one else sees. But oh the blush if someone DOES see. We can do something as innocent as trip, and the first thing we do is look around to see if anyone else saw it. We can deny our pride all we want, but just let us be falsely accused of something or thought ill of or made fun of and we find out just how much we still cling some small bit of greatness inwardly. I can’t fault the Disciples here one whit. The truth is, if I didn’t think I’d be thought ill of for asking it, I’d ask it too. It is only my desire for others to think of me in good terms that would prevent me. And just because my “cancer’ isn’t visible on my skin, doesn’t mean it rages any less below the surface. Secret sin is no less sin because it is invisible.
So far, Jesus has drawn out four signs of greatness in the kingdom of heaven. They are not the stuff of which greatness is made in our world. This is no less true with His 5th and final discourse. Here, Jesus takes the most amount of time to unpack the thought. And because He does so, we can, in direct proportion, take less. The answer is a simple as it is profound.
Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Those who forgive others as lavishly here as they have been forgiven by God.
How those words pierce my own soul even as I write them. How exceedingly, abundantly, constantly, repeatedly, faithfully, consistently and freely God continues to forgive me every moment of every day for sins so grievous and heinous that they are nothing short of infinite cosmic crimes against the One who has never done anything toward me but express and exercise grace and goodness and boundless love. If only we understood how sinful we really are, we would get some grasp of how just how immense His great forgiveness is toward us.
Given the above, the question is, how stingily, conditionally, sporadically, 3-strikes and you’re out, unfaithfully and inconsistently (consistent for those I like, inconsistent for those I don’t like) do I forgive the meager offenses of one fallen creature against another? If the blood of Christ is sufficient as a basis for the Father to forgive me, how come it is not a sufficient basis for me to forgive others?
Truth be told, if we begin to forgive as freely as our Father does for Christ’s sake, we will be thought fools, doormats and spineless in this world. So be it. Better to be like my Father and have His smile in the kingdom to come.
Does all this somehow imply we simply ignore sin? Impossible. The last installment in Jesus’ instructions showed we absolutely CANNOT simply dismiss sin. We MUST deal with it. How? is the question. And how deliberately do we prize those opportunities to manifest a mercy and grace toward one another which is so other-worldly, that this World is at a total loss to explain it – apart from the Cross?
Want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? Forgive greatly – like your Father in heaven.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13, ESV)