This is the second week in a row we read some of Jesus’ teaching about the importance of forgiveness. Peter’s question about how many times we must forgive someone else (seven times?) suggests that in their day people struggled with what some of us still struggle with today— forgiving others only to be repeatedly hurt and disappointed again. We get the sense that Peter may have thought he was generous in offering to forgive someone seven times. Jesus’ answer, which can be translated either as “77 times” or “70 times seven times,” would have been shocking—as it probably still is to us today.
We all love to be forgiven but we are not necessarily quick to forgive others. Scripture tells us that if we forgive our neighbours and in turn pray to God for forgiveness, it will be granted. There is a direct correlation between our willingness to forgive and our capacity to be forgiven. Our capacity to forgive others is tightly linked to our realization that we have been forgiven by God. When we try to justify an ethic of radical forgiveness on purely humanistic grounds, we will fail. But when we know in our bones that our sins have been eradicated through the cross of Christ, then we are able to forgive one another even seventy times seven times.
We find the key to understanding this is in today’s second reading where Paul’s says “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord” (Rom 14:8) Your life is not about you! You belong to the Lord. Whether you live or die, you belong to the lord. The whole of our life is for God’s purposes and should serve God’s ends. The incapacity to forgive comes from a feeling that this life is all about me. We must realize that we exist to be an instrument of God’s peace. When we make this transition in thinking we find that real forgiveness is possible. Only when we put our forgiveness of others in relation to God’s forgiveness of us is true forgiveness possible. Our lives do not belong to us.
The parable contained in the Gospel reading fleshes out the spirit of forgiveness that God displays, and which Jesus asks us to reach for. The closing warning or threat of punishment for those who do not forgive suggests how seriously Jesus wants his listeners to take this issue. We may not like the image of a Father God who will torture those who are not merciful, but it serves to wake us up to the graveness of the issue at hand.
So how do I become a better forgiver. Here are four suggestions from Bishop Robert Barron:
1) Keep your own sins before your mind’s eye. Remember to “call to mind your sins” when we use the Confiteor during the Penitential Rite at Mass and during the Lord’s prayer when we say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespasses against us.” Realize we have been forgiven far more than we are asked to forgive.
2) Go to confession regularly. Seeking the Lord’s forgiveness will make you a better forgiver.
3) Forgive offences quickly. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph 4:26)
4) Forgive through a concrete act or sign. Signal your forgiveness with a word, a note, or a call. Let the forgiven person know that you have forgiven them.
In conclusion, forgive because we have been forgiven. Our lives do not belong to us, they belong to God. There is nothing to be gained by clinging to past resentments. if we want to be forgiven fully and freely, we are asked to do the same for others by forgiving endlessly, constantly, and without calculation. Let us let God’s forgiven grace flow through us to others.
God bless you folks, Father Gerard.