Seventy Times Seven.
The monthly church council members were experiencing a predicament which would either confirm the fundamental basis of their faith or undermine their principles and provide an increasingly sceptical media with more fiery darts for their relentless attack on their church.
The handwritten letter before them had been tabled for the third consecutive month. The paper was low quality and streaked with some sort of fluid which had blurred some of the words but the content was well understood.
All those present were very familiar with the name at the bottom of the letter and opinions were divided.
The tattered envelope bore the stamp of the State Corrective Service and a handwritten contemptuous scrawl advising that the contents had been dutifully censored. The signature at the bottom of the letter was familiar as it was frequently used in the past on all church financial documents including numerous cheques and money transfers.
Harvey had tearfully written his letter from the prison that would soon be releasing him after three long, isolated, yet life changing years, that were the result of misappropriation of funds in his capacity as church treasurer. Harvey was asking for forgiveness as he had done so repeatedly since the people from the “Prison Fellowship” had become a major influence in his life insisting that it was indeed possible to be forgiven, seventy times seven.
This time Harvey’s letter required some form of response as his eminent release was the talk of the town suggesting a hostile reception if he dared to set foot in their law abiding village, as there were still too many hurts and inadequate “closure”.
Council Chairperson and well respected civic leader, Richard, called the meeting to order as the animated discussion required formalisation. “Well then, what do we do with this bit of hypocrisy” he bristled, as he had been the instigator of the legal action once it had become obvious that Harvey had been ripping them off. The awkward silence was finally broken by the young pastor who, as had been suggested, had a lot to learn about the “real” world.
Pastor Lance had come to the village four years ago and whilst his ministry was impacting the church’s faithful, many people considered him to be a “soft option”, as he had suggested discussing Harvey’s alleged fraud with him, face to face, but this was overruled by the church council as this was a legal matter better dealt with by the authorities. The media had ensured the public were well informed of this “charitable” process.
Lance cleared his throat as he rose to speak; Harvey’s letter had consumed his thoughts and prayers for the past week.
“As your Pastor I’m acutely aware of the hurt, anxiety and betrayal we have all, and in some cases, continue to experience”, this opening statement was well received. However, as he continued Lance dared to use biblical examples of the need for Harvey as a brother in Christ having a duty to ask for forgiveness and it being our duty to forgive him and to treat him accordingly, a time to display mercy in the same way our lives are dependent on mercy and forgiveness, but his most radical suggestion was the hardest to swallow.
“Why don’t we celebrate Harvey’s release and homecoming with a community barbecue as confirmation that we accept him back into our community and fellowship?”
The heated debate that followed was stunned into silence by Daphne, the respected ex missionary, who rose to her feet with a calm that belied the situation and with her renowned elegance that had diffused many council and community calamities, she began.
“It has been my experience that we try to forgive people, but forgiveness can’t do its redemptive work because we want to remember what they did to us. We continue to think and talk about them. Dwelling on past offenses reopens the wound and feeds anger, which in turn feeds unforgiveness blocking our fellowship with God and strangles our spiritual growth. A crime has been committed but how we as a church respond and contribute with mercy and love is a direct step of faith in response to the Gospel and Christ’s teaching and ultimate sacrifice that has enabled our forgiveness that negates the need for personal revenge”.
A month later Harvey was picked up from the prison followed by a community barbecue that became a testimony for the reality of the potential we have as a result of Christ’s redemptive work.
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