Few things are as heart-wrenching in ministry as situations that have no easy way out. Sometimes people will come to my office and express feeling trapped by where they are. So often people see loved ones make the same mistakes over and over and ask, "How many times do I have to forgive them?" The assumption is already made that if you continue to forgive that loved one, they'll keep messing up.
Others who struggle with their own sins ask, "Doesn't Jesus say, they should forgive me?" The assumption is already made here is that if forgiveness is offered it somehow lets the offender "off the hook" without their having to change any behavior.
A woman in an abusive relationship may ponders Jesus' teaching in Matthew 8:21-22 and ask, "I don't have to be a doormat, do I?" The assumption is already made that to forgive the abuse is to approve of it.
Matthew 18:21-22 says, "21 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?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
All of these questions, while heartfelt and important, miss the vital understanding of God's forgiveness. They all assume that forgiveness somehow negates justice. To the contrary: in all of these questions forgiveness follows God's justice. To put it in perspective I need to ask my own question: “Was Jesus a doormat?” In the most important way, “No.” Ultimately, anyone who walks over Jesus will eventually kneel at His Name. Sin and death have no power over him. He's proven that already. So no, Jesus was not a doormat. Doormats don't make any kind of response, and Jesus most definitely responds to people walking over Him.
But in ways that I shudder to understand, “Yes, Jesus was a doormat!” I should hasten to remind you that Jesus chose to allow himself to die at the hands of his oppressors, which makes Him the ultimate doormat. On the cross Jesus responds to all the sin we can create. He not only let others walk all over him, He let others walk all over Him when they didn't even realize what they were doing (Luke 23:34). But His response is not to rebel, rise up, and destroy his oppressors. His response is neither fight nor flight, but it is love. In this amazing grace, Jesus ceases to be walked over and instead can be stood on. He is the foundation now, you see? We stand on Christ's amazing love to redeem and reconcile (read: forgive) those around us. We stand on His amazing love to free others from oppressing us (read: forgive). This does not validate the wrongs others commit against us but instead undergirds our forgiveness. And that is the perspective we must wrestle with. We need to forgive as he forgave us. The same forgiveness we have been shown is the foundation on which redemption, justice, and grace stand.
May Christ be our foundation, not our doormat, as we seek to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for forgiving me. I'm sorry when I take advantage of your forgiveness and continue in sin. Help me to not only appreciate your grace but to also share that grace with others. Forgive us we pray. Amen.
I wrote this devotion for RUMC's Lenten Devotional guide. Big thanks to Nancy Harper for editing it.