Jesus said, "If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." I was just a young teen the first time those words hit me, and I remember squirming in my seat of conviction that Sunday morning so many years ago.
I could offer you dozens of reasons why forgiveness is good for us (and for those we forgive), but I'm not sure that was the point Jesus was trying to make in the Sermon of the Mount. When we look at the context, we see Jesus teaching us about hypocrisy. I think Jesus is calling us out on our hypocrisy when we enjoy God's forgiveness while withholding forgiveness from others.
I enjoyed the reactions of our church on Sunday when you arrived to worship and the front of the auditorium was filled with piles and piles of garbage. The image was intended to be provocative. In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18), Jesus tells the story of a man who had been forgiven a massive debt and then refused to forgive the small debt of another person. It is, I believe, offensive to God when we withhold forgiveness from others while claiming it for ourselves.
The journey toward forgiveness of those who have wronged us begins with an awareness of our own debt that was paid by Jesus. We can learn to forgive others, and here's why:
1] We can forgive because we are aware of our own sin.
2] We can forgive because we know the price paid by Jesus to cancel our debt. Why would we attempt to cheapen the cross with our unforgiveness?
3] We can forgive because we are forgiven people. Jesus makes our stinking pile of garbage go away...
4] We can forgive because God's Spirit makes us re-born people, made in his likeness, equipped with his grace.