An Epidemic of Forgiveness

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14

At this point in Jesus’ prayer, this phrase may seem like déjà vu all over again. Hasn’t Jesus already covered confession and forgiveness? Does he intend this as a postscript or an exclamation point?

The way Jesus talks about forgiveness here makes it sound frighteningly conditional—if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. On the other hand, Jesus might mean that forgiving is contagious. When a person recognizes their own forgiveness, they want to pass it on. Whether Jesus means this as a condition of forgiveness or as evidence of forgiveness is hard to say. One thing that remains crystal clear: there are two reasons Jesus intends for a spirit of radically disciplined forgiveness to be the most obvious character trait found in those who follow him.

First, perfection is impossible. The standard of our design as human beings is so high. My friend Jere Overdyke has spent a good part of a lifetime trying to master the game of golf. He watches golf on TV, reads golf literature, takes regular golf lessons, and keeps his equipment up to date. Over the years he’s kept a written record of all that he’s learned about making a good swing—from correctly addressing the ball to keeping his lead arm straight to executing an effective follow-through. His list has dozens of entries. He carries his list with him and consults it frequently, more as a reminder of what he’s done wrong rather than a source of pride for what he’s done right. And this is just golf.

What about life? Imagine keeping such a list of learnings about marriage, parenting, work, temptation, diet, finance, driving, entertainment, generosity, fantasies, and on and on.

Attempting to live life at its high level is profoundly humbling.

Second, forgiveness is contagious. To emphasize this, Jesus taught, “The one who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).

There’s a lot in the news these days about the recurrence of measles as a public health concern. Measles is so contagious that if ten unvaccinated children are exposed to it, nine of them will get the disease. Forgiveness is also contagious. Being exposed to a forgiving person usually results in a person becoming more forgiving.

Anyone who’s failed in life and then been forgiven knows the glorious relief of forgiveness. And anyone who’s failed and not been forgiven knows the misery of unrelieved guilt. So just one more time before we come to the amen of Jesus’ prayer, he reminds us: forgive others as we have been forgiven.

And try to imagine how an epidemic of forgiveness would change the world.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When is it hard to accept that you’ve been forgiven? When is it hard for you to forgive others? How do you behave toward others when you haven’t been able to forgive them? Which do you find easier, to forgive those closest to you or those far away?

PRAYER: Merciful God, humble me with the knowledge of my sinful brokenness. Then raise me up with the comfort of your forgiveness. And bring to mind those I need to forgive. Help me construct a plan for the things I will say and do to let them know that I have forgiven them. Strengthen me to be part of your epidemic of forgiveness. Amen.


Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren. Send a note to Dave.


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Featured image by Sydney Agee. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.