The Jordan River in Israel is a wonderful picture of the nature of forgiveness. The Jordan starts with waters from four major tributaries north of the Sea of Galilee. These tributaries receive their flow from the snowpack melt of the mountains, which form the Jordan. On its path, the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, a freshwater lake teeming with life. At Galilee’s southern end, the Jordan continues its journey. It provides life all along the Jordan River Valley until it approaches its end at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has virtually no capacity to sustain animal or plant life. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. In fact, it is nine times saltier than ocean water! The Dead Sea has no outlet. Pristine, fresh waters at the Jordan River’s beginning pick up bitterness along the way. When these waters reach their end, with no place for the bitterness to go, the Jordan becomes virtually lifeless at the Dead Sea.
The question posed in the title is sort of a trick question. Forgiveness is a gift given and received. The more pressing question is what do we do with a gift that is received? Just as the Jordan River did not give itself water (it was bestowed by the hand of God), we should give forgiveness away generously. In Colossians 2:13-14, Paul makes a similar comparison regarding forgiveness. Christ gave us forgiveness without regard to any work on our part. God has been and is generous to us! Paul knits this theme in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he encourages believers to forgive others generously being mindful of God’s generosity toward us.
The Luke text is frequently used to speak to personal stewardship and financial support. It has application in this context. However, in its Biblical context, Jesus is calling us to generosity in forgiving others. In fact, Jesus tells us we will enjoy the more abundant gifts of forgiveness as we are liberal in our bestowing of forgiveness to others. When I am putting a very desired but soft item in a container, I ladle as much into the container as I can. Knowing there is the possibility of air being trapped, I tap the container hoping that settling will occur and thus more can be put in. Because of its value, I seek to make as much room in the container to receive more. Forgiveness is just that valuable! We forgive generously so it can come back to us (pressed down, shaken together) generously. Who doesn’t need abundant forgiveness!
The act of forgiving gives us at least a two-fold benefit. First, when we forgive someone, it frees us from having to carry the proverbial monkey on our backs. We don’t have to keep a record of the wrong with the intent of revenge. Literally, it frees our minds to do more God-honoring things. Secondly, when we forgive, it unleashes the capacity for our own healing. An unforgiving spirit is like an unattended, festering sore. It’s ugly! It does no one any good. It creates an environment that can poison and indeed take our whole lives.
Like the Jordan River, the life giving waters of forgiveness have been given to us by God. In the course of our lives, like the Jordan River, we will be touched by the potential for bitterness. That’s what life does. Our choice is whether we allow that bitterness to accumulate into the Dead Sea of our souls or will we allow the life-affirming waters to flow through us as the bitterness falls away? Give life to yourself and others!