Monday Morning Devotion-October 11, 2021
Bumper Car Mentality
Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive Him? Up to Seven times? Matthew 18:21
*reprint from March 11, 2013
"There are no limits to God's Grace," writes Joe Stowell in "Our Daily Bread."
When we have to endure the bumps and bruises in life we sometimes try to move past them by executing a bumper car strategy. If you've ever driven a bumper car at the Fair you know you are going to get hit°a lot. That's what bumper cars do°they bump each other.
When somebody puts a big lick on your bumper car you naturally take off to bump them back, perhaps from an angle that they don't see coming. Your satisfaction comes from getting even with them for the big bump they put on you.
But that's in bumper car rides. Unfortunately, we sometimes have a tendency in the real world to have a bumper car mentality. When someone hurts you, hurt them back to get even.
We know from reading the Bible that when someone does you wrong you should forgive them. Not always easy, but what we should do. And that would be just fine if ended there.
The way it should work is that you do the right thing and forgive them, and you experience a sense of peace in knowing you have fulfilled the Lord's instructions in how to handle that kind of a situation.
The unspoken expectation is that they will realize how wrong they were to do what they did, and your forgiveness will lead to some soul-searching and repentance on their part. But it doesn't always work that way, does it?
Sometimes people look at your forgiveness and failure to retaliate as a sign of weakness. They won. You lost. That makes you really want to fully execute a bumper car strategy. Your mind says: "Okay, I'll show you how weak I am." Then you plot some elaborate get-even strategy to annihilate them.
Strangely, when you perfectly pull off that strategy and the other person crumbles under your strong actions or words, you expect to feel good about it°superior, a brilliant move. Way to go.
Somehow you don't feel that way. As you watch the other person reel, stagger and get "what-was-coming-to-them" you start to feel bad. OK, so they asked for it. They did you wrong and you forgave them. But they didn't stop. They took advantage of your kindness and beat-up-on you again. So, your retaliation is what they deserved.
You should feel good about it shouldn't you? You won. They lost. So why don't you feel triumphant? You are the victor, aren't you?
Not really. According to the teachings of Jesus you are the loser. You are worse off for the actions you took, even if you felt justified in bumping them back. OK so you hit them a little harder than they hit you. You were smart. You did your homework, found out where they were vulnerable and zeroed in on it.
Hey, you tried. You forgave them the first time? How many times do you have to keep getting bumped around and forgiving the act?
Peter apparently had been offended by someone. He was familiar with what the rabbis instructed people to do. They said, "People should forgive those who offend them---but, only three times." (NLT)
So, when Peter came to Jesus for advice, he thought he was being overly generous in phrasing his question.
"Lord, how often should I forgive someone, who sins against me? Seven times?"
Imagine how shocked Peter must have been when instead of lauding his magnanimous allowance in the question, Jesus refuted his calculation.
"No!" replied Jesus. "Seventy times seven."
I can imagine that Peter's jaw dropped open when he heard that. He didn't even have to do the quick math that would reveal 490 forgive-nesses to know that what Jesus was stipulating was a whole bunch of forgiveness.
How in the world could Peter, or we for that matter, ever forgive someone that many times? With the bumper car mentality, we would have taken them out way before it got to that point.
Obviously, Jesus is saying that there are no limits on forgiveness because "forgiveness is God's grace in action through us." He makes this point to show that He does not parcel out His forgiveness to us when we continue to sin.
I read this observation on the Internet by a Priest, Father Ryan Earlenbush as to why He feels Jesus chose "seventy times seven times" to signify "times without number that we must forgive every type of sin."
He adds, "°if the totality of all sin is signified by the number seventy-seven, so too shall Christ be shown to have overcome all sin through His birth. Indeed, in the genealogy of Christ, as given by St. Luke, there are (numbered inclusively) seventy-seven generations from God and Adam to Jesus Christ. Thus, our Lord signifies by His coming into the world that all sin should be done away."
Of course, sin still exists. We all sin°everyday, in some way. Nobody is perfect, but we are forgiven. And if we counted up all the time the Lord has forgiven us for our sins, I dare say they would outnumber the seventy-times seven.
So, here's what I get out of all this. You can't be too forgiving or forgive too many times. That takes care of your part. God will take care of the other person's part. You can't control that, and you don't have to. Forgiveness is what you are instructed to do.
Therefore, we must reserve that bumper car mentality to be used in its appropriate place°the bumper car rides at the Fair.
Monday Prayer: Lord thank you for your abundant love and sacrifice that provides the model for our forgiveness of others and negates a bumper car mentality. Amen!