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9-11 & Forgiveness

Here’s my homily on September 11th

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35
September 11, 2011

The traditional Jewish custom was to forgive a person three times.  If they continue to sin against you after that you were not obligated to forgive them.

Peter puts the question to Jesus, “how often must I forgive?”  Peter knows the importance of forgiveness, so he suggests seven times.  The people would have been impressed at the level of forgiveness when only three times was required.

While the people may have been impressed with Peter’s suggestion of seven times, Jesus was not.  Jesus replies with a much larger number, ‘seventy-seven.’

What is your reaction to Jesus suggesting the number ‘77’?  Did you let out a mild groan?  Do it seem impossible or ridiculous?  Maybe there’s someone thinking, ‘Ok, if Jesus says forgive 77 times, but NOT 78!’

We’re not supposed to keep a scorecard.  That’s missing the point. The point of ‘77’ is that it seems huge.  Why?  The point is that there should be no limit to our willingness to forgive.

Sound impossible?  

Isn’t it what we hope we have available from Jesus – unlimited forgiveness?  We must strive to do our best (not to sin) but when we do, we count on Jesus’ forgiveness.

Forgiving can seem so difficult.  What does it really mean to forgive?

Sometimes we think forgiveness means forgetting that the person ever did something to hurt us.  That would be nice and with the little things should be the reality.  We must not keep a scorecard.  But this must be balanced against justice and protecting ourselves.  

For instance, if a person commits a violent crime against us, we are called to forgiveness, but we also have a right to make sure they don’t do the same thing us to again.  They also need to be willing to accept the consequences of their actions.  

Forgiveness precludes revenge (an emotional response) but justice can still be served.

We might also ask “why should I forgive?”

First, because it is the right thing to do.  To forgive is to love as Jesus calls us to love.

Secondly, we forgive in recognition of our own need for forgiveness.  None of us is perfect.  We need forgiveness from God and from other people that we may have hurt.  We cannot be like the servant who begged for patience and mercy to his master and, after receiving complete forgiveness (more than he asked for), he went and did not reciprocate with the person in debt to him.

Think of the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  What right do we have to ask for forgiveness if we are not willing to forgive others?

A third reason to forgive – if we have not forgiving, then we are holding a grudge with angry in our heart.  Holding that angry in our hearts can keep us from loving, not just the one who has hurt us but from loving others.  It can also keep us from moving forward.  If we wish to move forward in hope, then we need to let go of the past.  Part of that letting go is to forgive.  When we don’t forgive, we hurt ourselves.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  The attacks were a terrible thing.  Many innocent people died.  We cannot forget what happened.  But does that mean we can’t forgive? 

Have we let go?  Or at we still stuck on 9-11?  We can still seek justice but is it justice or revenge we seek?  What’s the difference between revenge and justice?  Sometimes, the difference doesn’t seem very clear.  I think revenge has a lot more to do with emotions (primarily anger) while justice comes from reason and God. 

What concerns me is things like the reaction from many people when our military killed Osama Bin Laden.  There is certainly an element of justice and our safety involved but when people start celebrating a human death, I don’t see that as justice.  It seems more like revenge to me.

I don’t know how you feel about 9-11 and forgiveness.  But I imagine that at some point we have all found forgiveness difficult.  It can be done. 

For example of forgiveness, look at Pope John Paul II when he was shot.  What did he do to the man who shot him?  He forgave him.

May we have the grace we need to forgive others as we need to be forgiven ourselves.

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