Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
In October of 1735 John Wesley and his brother Charles left England and sailed to Savannah, Georgia where John would be the minister in the newly formed Savannah parish. Part of his religious upbringing had already instilled a desire for holiness of heart and life and Wesley believed that his new appointment provided a wonderful opportunity to hone his craft and enrich his faith. During his time serving as the pastor attendance at the church services steadily increased though he was disappointed by the lack of lived-out faith outside of worship.
Even with the growth in worship, many in the community disliked Wesley’s high church background and it proved to be a continual element of controversy. During this same time Wesley began to fall in love with the young and beautiful Sophia Hopkey. They courted for a period of time but after a brief visit to preach the Good News to the local Native Americans, Wesley was remarkably disappointed to discover that Sophia had married William Williamson. Wesley was devastated by the news and took out his frustration in a rather inappropriate way; he denied Sophia communion during church services.
Wesley, of course, had “reasons” to justify his actions (he believed that her zeal for living out her Christian faith had declined and he followed the guidelines from the Book of Common Prayer in prohibiting her sacramental participation) but he was also fueled by his heartache and anger in withholding the bread and wine. It quickly became quite the controversy and legal action was taken against Wesley eventually leading to him fleeing the colony and returning to England.
One of the highest, and most difficult, callings of Christian disciples is to forgive. When confronted with the question of forgiveness in the community Peter ventured forth the idea of forgiving someone seven times when Christ augmented the proposal to seventy-seven or seventy times seven times. Forgiveness, it would seem, is not something to be measured and checked off the list, but instead something that is deeply entrenched within the life of the community. Wesley let his personal feelings get the better of him, and he foolishly barred a young woman from Christ’s table. Christians, both clergy and lay, are called to the difficult task of everlasting forgiveness, even when it hurts.
Is there someone that you are still holding a grudge against? Who do you need to forgive in your life?