Forgiving … not seven times but seventy-seven times
FORGIVE JUST AS YOU ARE FORGIVEN (Mt. 18:21-35)
Today, we are invited to reflect on the important theme of forgiveness. Interestingly, the Greek word from which the word ‘forgiveness’ is derived conveys the meaning ‘to cut loose,’ ‘to release’. It therefore implies the idea that the person who needs forgiveness is in some sort of bondage or slavery. The person in need of forgiveness is in debt. This reflects the way it is used in the Gospel today.
Every day we confront situations in which we have to forgive others or ask for forgiveness from others. Peter’s question at the opening of the Gospel underscores not only how often those situations can occur but also the difficulty in repeatedly granting forgiveness to others. Sometimes it can also be quite as difficult to accept forgiveness. Jesus’s answer shows that to forgive others is a duty, not just an act performed because we want to. But Jesus goes further to give reasons why it is a duty to forgive.
The first reason is because forgiving is one of those acts in which human beings directly participate in the nature of God. Mercy is the most obvious aspect of God. Jesus’s answer to Peter’s question demonstrates that God forgives us as frequently as we ask for his forgiveness. The significance of “seventy-times seven” in Jesus’s reply is that God simply does not keep count our offences.
Consequently, the second reason why we must forgive others frequently is that God forgives us just as much. I suppose it is common sense to assume that we cannot expect forgiveness from God if we do not forgive others. In the parable that Jesus gives in our Gospel today, we observe that the servant is called ‘wicked’ because he could not cancel the debt of his fellow servant (which was much less) after the Master had cancelled his (which was a greater amount). Hence we have the duty to forgive others because the best of us are in huge debt to God.
The final reason we must forgive is that we end up enslaving or binding ourselves in prison when we do not forgive. This may sound contradictory, especially because we often feel we have an edge over others when they are in need of our forgiveness. But quite on the contrary, we lose our peace, and we separate ourselves from God when we do not forgive others. We literally throw ourselves into prison ‘till we pay our debt’ when we refuse to forgive.
Let us recall that the parable begins with “…the kingdom of God may be compared to…” Jesus is, in other words, pointing out what a genuine Christian community must look like. It is a community in which members experience forgiveness when they err. The priest, on behalf of Christ and the Church, administers forgiveness in the sacrament of confession.
One aspect of forgiveness that we can often ignore is the difficulty in accepting forgiveness; that is in forgiving ourselves. God does not keep record of our sins, as the parable given us today indicates. But it is left to us not to keep the record for ourselves. Nothing is worse that being unable to accept God’s forgiveness. It is equivalent to refusing to be loved. What is more, the attitude of chronic self-blame has a hidden pride underlying it. It feeds on the assumption that we are better than what we are. Without humility, it would be impossible to accept forgiveness and it would be very difficult to accept God into our lives, and to live in the peace that God has won for us through his death which ultimately paid the debt off due to sin.
N O T I C E S
- The 2020-2021 year of preparations for Holy Communion and Confirmation will soon be inaugurated. Those who wish to receive any of these sacraments in the next year can contact the parish (firstname.lastname@example.org) for registration. Due to the present circumstances, classes will be held in the safest way, most likely online, but this will be determined together with the participants.
- Children who prepared for First Holy Communion during the last year will be having the ceremony at various Masses in the next coming Sundays. Because of concerns for safety, the ceremonies have been split appropriately. Please do pray for the new communicants.
- There is a poster for talks on Carmelite Spirituality from our House in Oxford. You can find it at back of the Church. It will be held on Zoom. Please do have a look and register for those talks as they promise to be insightful and beneficial to our spiritual growth.
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