Words can bedevil us. A man in one of the churches I served became terribly upset over a greeting I had given him. I was surprised by his reaction to a welcome I had used from my childhood. He had heard my words in an entirely different way than I intended them. What I had thought of as a simple greeting had come to him as an intrusive question. What I had meant in friendship was experienced as rejection. Words of welcome I had used my entire life were misunderstood in a different place and time.
When I reflected on that experience, I got to thinking of the ways we miscommunicate. Parents try to reach out to their teenager, only to find their questions coming across as an attack. A wife tries to tell her husband about that holy space inside of her, but he laughs it off not recognizing the cost of her sharing. A spouse responds to a gentle inquiry about his or her day, by snapping, “You wouldn’t understand,” leaving the other trying to make sense of what they had said or done wrong. Busy or deep in thought, we brush off a friend. The friend feels hurt and wounded by our neglect.
In this imperfect life we live, we make mistakes. Words come out of our mouths which are received in a very different way than we intend. Whenever we live in community, we are given opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. Perhaps that’s why Jesus put the measure of forgiveness at seventy times seven. He knew his disciples would need to be forgiving people – if they were going to live together and bring in the Kingdom of God. Lent reminds us that each of us are in the need of God’s mercy. The cross stands as a marker of God’s choice to bless us with forgiveness and grace.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22