Saying 'sorry' is hard, but forgiveness can change the world


Why is it so hard to say sorry?

Probably because it involves us admitting that we were wrong. It makes us vulnerable. If we admit we were wrong, we don't know how another person is going to react. Will they punish us? Will they think less of us?

It's also hard because we know deep down that there are things we do wrong every day, and we don't want to have to go round apologising to people all the time. When we're little children, we do it because we're told to. When we're adults, we begin to realise that saying sorry may be hard, but not saying sorry is even harder.

If we do something wrong and don't apologise for it, it can eat away at us for years. It can make us feel guilty and like we're hiding something from the world – like we can't be ourselves any more.

But the opposite of that is the freedom we feel when we know that we're forgiven.

St Paul tells us that we need to say sorry to each other if we've done something wrong. In Ephesians 4:32, he says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

The writer to the Hebrews says something similar in chapter 12:14, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." There's a way in which people see something of God, and get a little glimpse of what he's like, if we act in a forgiving way.

The best example comes from Jesus himself. In Matthew 5:23-26, it says this, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."

This is in the middle of one of the most famous speeches of all time – the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is telling us that if we have a problem with someone we shouldn't go to the altar. He's saying, if you need to seek forgiveness or you need to forgive someone – you have to do it before you come to God. That's why we share the peace at church. Its real purpose is for us to be able to be reconciled to each other. We shouldn't come to communion if we need to forgive someone or if we need to seek forgiveness ourselves.

So we've seen that God wants us to say sorry to each other, to apologise when we've done wrong. But what's the catch? Again, it's pretty obvious: you might not feel like doing it. If someone has wronged you, you want them to face justice, not forgiveness. Jesus addresses this, "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" He then tells the story of the Unmerciful Servant.

This story teaches us the true value of grace – unearned forgiveness. Grace breaks the cycle of what Philip Yancey calls 'ungrace'. This cycle is what perpetutaes grief and conflict in our personal lives and between warring factions around the world.

God isn't like us. God offers forgiveness every time I ask for it. God offers us forgiveness when we come together with lots of others who are all in need of it and together we celebrate his grace to us. And then together, in the power of his grace we're strengthened to go out and change the world. To break the cycle of ungrace. That's what can change our lives and the world.