A Lesson in Forgiveness

by Andrew Barnhart
(Matthew 18:23-34)
     As a kid growing up who wasn’t Irish, I confess I didn’t know much about this holiday in March called Saint Patrick’s Day. I knew you were supposed to wear green, and if you forgot, expect to be pinched at school. There were decorations of leprechauns next to pots of gold, rainbows, and four leafed clovers.
     As an adult, until recently, my limited understanding was that it was a day to honor Irish-Americans who came to America looking for a better life and to celebrate their contributions to American culture. Here on the campus of the University of Illinois, St. Patrick’s Day is unofficially celebrated by college students and some adults drinking alcohol until they physically can’t anymore.
     None of these things even come close to how this man Patrick should be celebrated - what a shame this is.
     The real Saint Patrick had an incredible life story filled with difficulty, hard choices, self-sacrifice and forgiveness. He is believed to have been born in the late 4th century around 386 A.D. He was the son of a church deacon, but had no interest in God as a child. At age 16, he was taken captive by a group of Irish raiders and carried away from his home and family in Britain, and taken inland to Ireland. In Ireland, he was alone, and given the job of watching over sheep. It was during this time alone that Patrick would later write about in his book - Patrick’s Confession, that - “There the Lord revealed to me the nature of my unbelief, so that I should recall my transgressions and turn my heart to God.” He spent the next 6 years as a slave, tending sheep. Then one night in a dream he felt the Holy Spirit speaking to him about escaping back to his home. In what can be described as nothing less than a daring escape, he travelled an estimated 200 miles over several days to plead his case for passage on a boat that was leaving Ireland. He finally made it home to the joy and surprise of his parents. Back home, he felt the call of God upon his life to serve God full time. He went to a school to learn the Scriptures and served God in Britain, all the while praying for his captors and the people of Ireland to come to know God’s love and mercy as he had. Time went by, and he felt a specific call by God to return to Ireland, this time as a missionary to the land of his former captivity.
     The story of Patrick’s life is a lesson in forgiveness. In Matthew 18:23-34, Jesus told a story of an unforgiving servant. This passage is the story of a man who owed the king a debt he could never repay. The man pleaded with the king for patience, and the King, who was moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt that he owed. Jesus says that this man went out and found his neighbor who owed him a small debt. His neighbor pleaded with the man, but the man would not forgive his neighbor. The King found out what the man did to his neighbor and called him in for questioning - “Should you not have had compassion on your neighbor, as I had compassion on you?”
     Forgiveness can be described as - “Releasing, by choice, a debt or an obligation owed to you by another.” Patrick’s life story is an example to us of this spiritual truth lived out in a person’s life. Having received God’s mercy and forgiveness in his own life, he then went and found his neighbor (his captors) and was willing to forgive them. He spent the rest of his life serving the Lord as a missionary to the very people who had once taken him by force from his home. His grave site in Ireland serves as a testimony to the forgiveness of God lived out in the life of His servant.
     I’ve never really celebrated or thought much about Saint Patrick’s Day before, after all I’m not Irish. But, having learned of his life story, I will be this year - just not in the traditional ways most people do. I will celebrate a life well lived, and try to do what God has commanded you and me to do in Luke 10:37 - “To, go and do thou likewise."

1 Comment

Dawn - March 19th, 2021 at 9:12am

I did not know the history! Thanks for sharing this man’s repentance and subsequent faithful service to God!