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Pay it forward



"Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" "No, not seven times," Jesus replied, "but seventy times seven!" Matthew 18:21-22

Like many people, COVID has caused me to be far less active.  I can't practice Aikido in the dojo, I can't use the bus, so I don't ride my bike or skateboard to work anymore.  This has come with some waist gain and a general feeling of unhealthiness.  In an attempt to gain some control over this, my spouse and I ordered a rowing machine.  To save some money we ordered a cheap machine that didn't have any reviews.  We figured they were probably all made by the same place anyway.  

After some time our machine arrived in two boxes.  I spent my first morning off putting it together.  As I was putting it together I started noticing these small parts that were broken.  It looked like they were minor things that would not impact the machine's ability to work, so I kept going.  By the time I got to the fourth part that was broken I started to take pictures, and I felt myself getting grumpy.  

Once the machine was fully together it still looked like it would work, but I realized that the retailer was going to need to replace several parts.  I added the water, noticing that even the siphon was broken.  Shaking my head I pulled on the chain to give it a try.  Water splashed me and poured out over my wooden floor.  We quickly cleaned up and then found the crack in the basin.  At this point I realized that the whole thing would need replacement because every part had some issue.  As I was looking over the various pieces I put one foot in the foot strap, but when I pulled my foot out, the back of the strap broke in two.

I was not yet cussing, but I was livid.  It took some time to empty the water back out of the basin and I was thinking that the company needed to come get it.  I had no intention of taking it back apart or packing it up. I felt like the company owed me money for my time and for the filtered water we had put into it.  

Their first response was to request pictures, which we sent them, but they still wanted it shipped back to them.  I swallowed my pride and spent the rest of the day taking it apart and finding a way to pack it back in the box.   They required we take it to the shipping center because of the size/weight of the package, so we did.  When we arrived there, we discovered that they only sent us a shipping label for one box, but it was a two box shipment.  We would need to contact them again, so we hulled it back home.  

As I was eating dinner I found myself obsessing over wanting them to pay.  I started counting the hours I had spent on this and adding up the cost of equipment, damages, and gas.  I wanted this company to pay.  I had a brief moment of questioning myself.  The Holy Spirit nudged me, but I responded with justification.  I justified myself saying: "The package was not damaged, this was not a shipping issue, this was a quality issue, and any company willing to ship something so bad needs to feel some pain...they are taking advantage of people".   Friends and family encouraged me and justified my thoughts and feelings of injustice, but the Holy Spirit kept pushing against me.  

I was reminded of the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor found in Matthew 18:21-35.  When Peter asks Jesus how far he should go with forgiving those who sin against him, Jesus tells this story of a person who was forgiven a great debt owed to a ruler, but then held a much smaller debt against someone who owed him.  When the ruler found out he placed the person in prison for his failure to show mercy after having received it in such abundance.  

Here I was, in a prison of my own making.  Forgiven of debts in physical, moral, and spiritual realms, yet demanding that another person suffer for theirs.  I was lost in my own thoughts and unable to move on, caught in a prison of hate.  The Spirit was working though, so as my own heart started to soften, I then started to think about the person who sold this machine to me.  It was a new machine that had no reviews, so they were likely taking a chance on it.  It had probably been damaged in shipping, even though the box looked fine.  Either way, the seller certainly didn't take a hammer to it before shipping it to me, nor did they make the product.  For this person, they lost out on however much they purchased the machine for, plus the cost of shipping it back to them, and maybe even the cost of them shipping it back to a manufacturer, yet I wanted more blood? 

Jesus demands more of us.  We sometimes think of Jesus as soft and forgiving, but it is good to remember that Jesus is also demanding of us.  Read the parable in Matthew 18:21-35, it is challenging to say the least.  If you find yourself in a similar place, wanting someone to "pay" or "suffer" remember this parable, and remember what you have been forgiven of.  Let that soften your heart so that you can see the human in the other, instead of the obstacle  you likely see when your heart is hard. 

God, help us to hear you when you give us these prompts.  Help us to forgive as you have forgiven us.  Help us to see the humanity in the other, even when it seems they are an obstacle or an enemy.  Amen.

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