24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12 (8)
September 13, 2020
It can be hard to forgive. It can be even harder to forgive the same person over and over for the same thing. Peter knows this. So, he asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” To the Jews seven times would sound generous.
Is Jesus pleased with the “seven” suggested by Peter? No, He replies, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Wow! That’s a lot. If you are thinking, okay, maybe 77 but that’s it, you are missing where Jesus is trying to lead us.
Another way of looking at it is to ask yourself how many times you want to be forgiven. Would not your answer be to ask for forgiveness every time you sin, no matter how many times that is?
God wants to forgive us. God could seek to destroy us for our sins but, as the psalm says, “Not according to our sins does he deal with us.” It might be hard for us to imagine because we find it hard to forgive others but God “pardons all your iniquities.”
God does this because He loves us. Jesus dies for all our sins because He loves us.
We should be grateful for this. In gratitude we should be inspired to forgive others. Jesus tells the parable today to demonstrate this. A debtor owes his master “a huge amount.” When the master comes to collect, the debtor “fell down, and did him homage” asking for more time. The master is so moved with compassion that he is generous and forgives the whole loan.
One might think the debtor would be inspired by the master’s generosity but he is not. In fact, he goes and demands payment from someone who owes “him a much smaller amount.” He has just been forgiven a huge debt. He could afford to forgive but he does not. The master hears of this and hands him over to the torturers.
If we want God to forgive us, we need to be willing to forgive others. This is not new with Jesus. We hear about forgiving our neighbors in our reading today from Sirach, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are saying we will forgive others. Why are we willing to forgive others?
The first answer comes from obligation, obedience to God. God tells us to forgive. We need to do as God says.
The second answer might be rooted in some selfishness. We forgive only because we want to be forgiven our own sins.
The third answer is because we seek healing from the Lord. Our hearts are hurting because of what has been done to us. But, as Sirach says, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?”
If we want to be healed of the hurt, we need to be willing to forgive.
We cannot hold onto grudges. We hurt ourselves when we hold onto our grudges for, as Sirach says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Yet, we know it can be hard to forgive.
What does it even mean to forgive?
People tend to think forgiving requires forgetting. I think with the little things this can be true. Just let it go.
However, if someone commits a very serious sin like murder, I don’t think God expects us to just forget about it. There is to be appropriate action but for our own good we need to let go of the hurt.
So, what does it mean to forgive?
I read a list of three things required in forgiveness a few months ago that help put forgiveness into perspective.
The first thing is we need to be willing to do is wish good for the person. This can include their conversion from sin to God’s ways. It includes wishing for only good things in the future to happen to them.
The second thing is to be able to be polite to them if we see them. This doesn’t mean that we have to be best friends with them. It does mean that we need to take the high road.
The third thing is to pray for them. Again, this can include praying for their conversion but not only their conversion. Pray that God’s will be done in them.
I mentioned before how our motive in forgiving others might be entirely selfish, knowing at times, we need to be forgiven and that we need healing.
However, our motives to forgive others don’t have to have any selfish motive at all.
Why does God forgive us? Could God be forgiving us for selfish reasons? What would God have to gain by forgiving us?
No, God does not forgive us for selfish reasons.
God forgives because He loves us.
We can forgive others based on love. How does one love someone who has hurt us? Here, we need to realize there are different types of love. There is romantic love between a man and a woman as husband and wife. There is love within families. There is love between families.
There is love we are called to have for every single person. We care for them. We wish well for them. We pray for them. We forgive them.
We forgive them from our heart.
Forgiveness can be hard but it brings healing not just to the one forgiven but also to the one who has been hurt. God, give us the grace to forgive.