The passage for the Narrative Lectionary reading is Matthew 18:15-35.
The Working Preacher commentary is here.
The (very helpful) Working Preacher NL podcast is here.
I was way behind the curve when I finally watched “Frozen”, the Disney/Pixar movie about two sisters and a lot of ice. It had been out nearly a year or more by the time I got around to watching it. As the animation played out and the snow piled high, I just kept thinking, “This movie is about fear.”
Fear itself is mentioned by several of the characters. The older daughter, Elsa, is taught “conceal, don’t feel.” She later sings, “There’s so much fear.” Another character alleges that he “was a victim of fear.” That’s a lot of a very heavy emotion for a movie with the theme song, “Let it Go.”
Perhaps that’s because the reality of “let it go” doesn’t actually change anything. Elsa can pitch her crown off the mountain, but she’s still the queen and she has not dealt with how her experiences and abilities affect her relationships with other people. “Letting go” is really just more concealing and not feeling.
I worry that “let it go” is the message people of faith often equate with forgiveness. People seem to be encouraged to let go of hurts, fears, and guilt. Let it go. Yet, like in the movie, that isn’t actually forgiveness. The realities of our experiences, our abilities, what we have done and had done to us are still real, still powerful, and still affecting our relationships with others and, perhaps, with God. “Let it go” is a great shower song, but it’s poor Christian practice.
Forgiveness is not just letting go, concealing in a false-fronted smile and trying to ignore the pain. Forgiveness is the reality of acknowledging wounds, debts, trespasses- gaping maws of pain in our past that shape the map of our future. These truths of our experiences have power and voice. Forgiveness means the desire to recognize the future is in God’s hands, instead of entrenched in and gripped by our past.
Those hearing the text this week may be overwhelmed by couldas, wouldas, and shouldas. They may remember serious pain caused to them and agonize over their inability to forgive. They may lament loved ones lost over the years to death of the relationship, well before the death of the body. People may think of others they know who can’t forgive or whom they believe should not be forgiven.
This is not the Sunday to sing “Let it Go.”
It is the Sunday to lift up the realities of God’s forgiveness- limitless and abounding, just and honed. God does not hold us to a standard of forgiveness. God, instead, sets the standard of forgiveness, which is not about returning again and again to get burned and spurned. It is about reshaping the covenants, the connections, and the community so that healing and wholeness are the inevitable results.
This is the goal of church discipline. This is what Peter needed to learn from Jesus. This is what the unforgiving servant couldn’t see.
Forgiveness is never “let it go.” It’s always “let it in”, “let it work”, and watch it grow.