In this weekend’s Gospel, all Catholic’s look at forgiveness, not an easy pill to swallow but –– if you truly forgive –– it gives new life.
Just how good do I need to be? Just how many times do I need to be kind? Do I really need to forgive when they truly did me wrong?
These are the type of questions Peter is asking Jesus in the Gospel and what did Jesus reply: “I say to you that you are not to forgive seven times, but 77 times.”
Forgiveness, for Jesus, is a no-brainer. It is a quality; a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, and a way of thinking and seeing.
It is nothing less than “The Way of Christ.” If we are to follow Christ then it must be our way as well.
“Not seven times, but, I tell you, 77 times.”
Does that mean the drunk driver? Yes.
The person that betrayed you? Yes.
The thief? Yes.
The lying friend, the bully, the abusive parent, the greedy businessman, and even the imperfect priest or deacon? Yes! Today we stand at a difficult, seemingly impossible, place. We stand at the intersection of our perception of life’s realities and Christ’s teachings.
As we look at the history of the world, we see the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, perceived discriminations, economic oppression, and wars and torture in the Middle East.
As we look at our own lives we find broken promises, hurt feelings, betrayals, harsh words, and physical and emotional wounds.
Every one of us could tell stories of being hurt or victimized by another. Yet beneath the pain, the wounds, the losses, and the memories, lies the question of forgiveness.
Everyone, I suspect, is in favor of forgiveness, at least in principle. Everyone says forgiveness is a great idea, until there is something or someone to forgive. What do we do then? What do we do when there is someone or something to forgive? Some will strike back seeking revenge. Some will run away from life and relationships. Some will let the darkness paralyze them.
I don’t say these things out of criticism or judgment of someone else, but out of my own experience. I know how hard forgiveness can be. Like you, I too, struggle with it and often avoid it.
I also know that none of those answers are the way of Christ. All of them leave us stuck in the past, tied to the evil of another, and devoid of the future God wants to give us.
Forgiveness is the only way forward. That does not mean we forget, condone or approve of what was done. It does not mean we ignore or excuse cruelty or injustice. It means that we are released from them. We let go of the thoughts and fantasies of revenge. We look to the future rather than the past. We try to see and love as God sees and loves. Forgiveness is a way in which we align our life with God’s life.
To withhold forgiveness is to put ourselves in the place of God, the ultimate judge to whom all are accountable. God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are closely intertwined, and in this weekend’s Gospel parable I feel that Jesus is trying to teach us this lesson.
As you will hear in this weekend’s Gospel the king forgives his slave a huge amount and it seems that there is no debt too large to be forgiven. The man, the debtor, was completely forgiven. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. That’s how our God is!
Yet this slave refused to forgive his fellow slave a much smaller debt. Too often that’s what our world is like. Frequently, it is how we are. In that refusal to forgive, the forgiven slave lost his own forgiveness.
This concept should not be news to us. We know it well. We acknowledge and pray it every Sunday and I’ll bet most of you pray it every day. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sound familiar? We pray those words with ease and familiarity, but do we live our prayer? Do our actions support our request? “Not seven times, but, I tell you, 77 times.”
That’s a lot of forgiveness, but the pain of the world, our nation, and individuals is great. We need to forgive as much, maybe more, for ourselves as for the one we forgive. Forgiving those who trespass against us is the medicine that begins to heal our wounds. It may not change the one who hurt you, but I promise you this: Your life will be more alive, more grace-filled, more whole, and more God-like for having forgiven another.
Forgiveness creates space for new life. Forgiveness is an act of hopefulness and resurrection for the one who forgives. It is the healing of our soul and life.
Forgiveness takes us out of darkness into light, from death to life.
It disentangles us from the evil of another. It is the refusal to let our future be determined by the past. It is the letting go of the thoughts, the hatred, and the fear that fill us, so that we might live and love again.
Yet, we must understand that forgiveness does not originate is us.
It begins with God. That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand. It was not about him. It is about God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.
Then we choose again, and then again, and then again. For most of us, forgiveness is a process that we live into.
Sometimes, however, we just can’t. The pain is too much, the wound too raw, the memories too real. But we choose because that’s the choice Christ made.
We are to love as we are loved, that we are to forgive as we are forgiven, and that true humility means, knowing our proper relationship to God and that one day we will be judged for how we have lived, loved and forgiven.
We must ask ourselves these questions before it is too late and while we can still change our ways: Am I truly living the Christian life? Have I applied Christ’s teachings to my life? Am I living a daily and constant life filled with compassion, patience, understanding, kindness, and love? And if not, am I willing to change?
And if not, do I truly understand what to expect for the eternal future?