When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” what Peter really wanted to know was not how long he ought to keep forgiving, but how soon he could stop forgiving!*
Jesus, of course, knowing what Peter is up to, comes in with the high bid: seventy times seven. In other words, keep at it until I tell you to stop.
What if the one we’re tired of forgiving is ourselves? We try and we fail. We up our efforts and still fall short. We rededicate ourselves, plan for success, rearrange our schedules, purchase all the ingredients, engage all the helpers, invest in the best equipment and still…we fall flat on our faces. What then?
Jesus says, “Forgive yourself, again, just as I have forgiven you, again and again.”
Because He knows something we don’t know; the road we’re on is the one he’s paving. It’s not about making the right turn, following the map, or allowing for traffic. It’s not even about where the road leads. It’s about making forward progress. And nothing halts progress faster than looking around to see if anyone just saw that.
We didn’t. And if you still do, Jesus says, forgive yourself that. And while you’re at it, forgive others theirs. Expand the circumference of your forgiveness and see how far that takes you. But start with your own. And stop counting how many you’re up to. God’s not. Seventy times seven means always and forever.
Clean slate. Nothing holding you back. You got this.
We are good at preparing people to lead, but how good are we at preparing people to follow?
On the day after Easter, this seems a reasonable question. Because, let’s face it, if Jesus is for real, none of is gonna be the leader when this is all over with.
But it sets me thinking about me, my community, my nation, my world. We place a huge burden on our leaders, but refuse to follow – unless they are doing what we want, in the way we want, by the means we have approved. Frankly, we like to lead ourselves. We do not like to follow. How does one even be a good follower? No one has ever taught me this. In fact, I have been warned against it. Be a winner; don’t settle for second best! That’s the first loser.
And so I wonder if we have gotten it all wrong. As we send our children onto the field of play, shouting as they score, celebrating when they win, rewarding them for defeating the other team, are we failing to fully prepare them?
If they do lose we encourage them to try harder. If they win or if they show promise – which of course we all see in our children – we want them to try out for the ‘select’ squad, to distinguish themselves in some manner so they will be first on the list. First to be chosen. First in line. But how many can be first? Would we do better to prepare them to take their place in line? Any place. Behind the person in front of them. Perhaps the most important thing of all is the line itself.
Instead, we have kids shoving their way. Hey, I was there. I want to stand next to him or her. Get out of my way. And our punishment when they act this way? We send them to the back of the line, because that is the worst place to be. The place of dishonor and shame.
Yet, that is the place of those who aren’t so physically capable, aren’t so quick with their minds, aren’t so socially adept. We have a place for those people, back there, where we don’t have to see you or hear from you or make way for you. You hold the rest of us back. Get out of the way. We’re coming through; we’re leaders. You follow us.
Jesus said this to Peter when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “Get behind me Satan!” When all Peter was doing was trying to be first in line. To follow most closely. Jesus was teaching Peter how to follow. To leave some room for other people. A bit of space for latecomers – the deaf, the blind, the sick and the lame. All those who didn’t have the privilege Peter did to hear Jesus first hand, or were out of earshot because they had been shoved aside.
Were Jesus to stand physically before me today, I fear He would say the same to me. “Get behind me Satan!” And elaborate with a loud voice, “Leave some room for others. Learn how to follow me. Start with that problem you have about being first. I am first.” And then to the crowd gathered, “The rest of you are second, every last one of you. Stop fighting for your place in line!”
Falling in line, wherever there was space or wherever someone was kind enough to let me in, would be fine. No jostling. No shoving. No hard feelings. And if all the spaces were taken it would be fine to take my place at the end of the line. Oh, what a trip that is, walking past all those people, curved in and around, wound through, up and over. All of humanity would be there, waiting patiently to be next.
But what to do about that guy who wants to cut? No sense pushing and shoving him because you’ll both end up at the back of the line. Why not let ’em in. Might be fun to see the look on his face when he makes his way to the front and sees who the Leader really is. And THAT thought just sent me to the back of the line.