Paying Our Debts While Forgiving Our Debtors

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Earlier this summer I went to a baseball game with a friend who picked up the tickets earlier. I did not get the opportunity to pay him for my ticket the night of the game, so a few days later I took him to dinner. When the waitress  brought us the check, I took it and paid for both our meals. My friend asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that. I said, “Of course. Remember I owe you for the tickets.” He said, “Nobody owes me for anything.” Meaning he had an attitude of not keeping a record of debts.

Tuesday’s section of this week’s lesson asks the question, “Have you done wrong to anyone? Most of us, if honest, would have to answer “Yes”. What’s stopping you, in whatever degree possible, from making restitution, even now?”

In 1946 Mora Gregg’s parents checked out a book for her from the Silver Springs Maryland library, called “The Postman.”  Mora, only a toddler fell in love with the pictures, so instead of returning the book, Mora’s family ended up taking the book with them when they moved to Canada. Over the years Mora would see “Silver Springs Public Library” stamped on the inside cover of the book. Finally 73 years later, Mora realized the book was not hers and needed to be returned. She returned the book with a letter of apology. The daily overdue rate would have had Mora owing more than $9,000.00 but it turns out there was a $15.00 cap for late fees.

Has your conscience ever bothered you about something long ago that you just had to make right. For me it was a simple thank-you note. A lady in the church gave me a nice book journal when I graduated from high school. I failed to write her a thank-you note right away, and it got the point where it was too embarrassing or awkward to write a thank-you note. Over time, I kept thinking about it whenever I saw the book, and my lack of manners made me cringe. Finally in 2004, I was having dinner with friends in Florida and somehow the topic of my neglect came up. I told then how it was still bugging me  that I never wrote a thank-you note to that sweet lady. One friend suggested I go ahead and write a thank-you note now. That’s all the encouragement I needed. That night I mailed her a 20-year-overdue thank-you note. She did not respond to my late note, either because she was too old by then to write, or maybe she was waiting twenty years to respond. She has since passed away. As awkward as it may have been, I am glad I finally wrote the thank-you note. She knew I appreciated it, and it no longer bugs me like it did those twenty years.

Paul says,

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. Romans 13:8 NLT

I think this goes for gratitude and respect as much as it does for money and material items. We should not put off making things right today, no matter how we may have waited before.

On the other hand, what if we are the ones who are owed?

While conducting a grief counseling workshop, the issue came up  that sometimes people have guilt because they did someone wrong, and the person the person they did wrong died before they made things right. The survivor struggles with the guilt of never being able to tell them they were sorry and make things right. Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story about a servant who owed his master an incredible sum of money. Interestingly the servant never asks for the debt to be forgiven. He only asks for more time to pay the debt, but his master forgives him without even being asked. That reminds me of Jesus crying out from the cross, “Forgive them, Father!” even though no one was saying they were sorry yet! Peter, who had denied Jesus, was forgiven before he ever had a chance to say he was sorry. In Mark 16:7 an invitation especially mentions Peter, letting him know he  was forgiven before he even had a chance to say he was sorry.

In the grief counseling workshop, scenarios were brought up, like a child talks back to his father as he leaves for school, and then his father dies in an accident at work before the child had a chance to say sorry. Now the child is left with the guilt of those cruel words being the last thing he said to his father. Sure, we can say the child should have been careful with his words because we never know when that will be the last time we talk to someone. Still, I think Jesus offers another way to heal those feelings of guilt and remorse. What if we were so quick to forgive, without even being asked, that even if we died before someone could ask our forgiveness, they would just know they were forgiven? This is why I think having a spirit of forgiveness is so important. This way if we don’t have the opportunity to formally forgive someone, they will still know they are forgiven, because we were always quick to forgive and never held grudges.

Like my friend with whom I went to the baseball game and, more importantly, like Jesus, we need to pay our own debts, while freely forgiving all debts owed to us.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.