How often Why should I forgive?
In a culture that strongly promotes justice exceptional acts of forgiveness can seem somehow to betray our need to find balance in the world. In a world with terrorists, how can we forgive extreme acts of violence? How do we forgive racial genocide? How does a woman who has been trapped in an abusive relationship find forgiveness for the one who has hurt her and her children repeatedly?
In the Gospel today Peter reminds us just how hard forgiveness can be. When he suggests to Jesus that one forgive 7 times he is offering what seems to be an exceptional expectation. Jesus responds not 7 but 77 times. It seems incredible, how can we be asked to do such a thing.
Forgiveness cannot be overcoming our sense of violation, forgetting what hurt has been done to us by the force of our will; such a method is ultimately impossible. We may pretend for awhile but it will come back to hurt us.
Experiencing true forgiveness lies in realizing where that forgiveness comes from. Forgiveness is a gift that is given to us. Just like our life, forgiveness is a gift from God. A gift is not something that we earn, a gift is not something that we are owed. It is something freely given. And forgiveness is something that God offers us time and time again.
We can’t forgive that way, not by ourselves. We are helped to forgive by remembering that we were forgiven first. In the parable the wicked servant isn’t an example because he could not forgive. He was an example because he had been forgiven a great debt and did not forgive a small one; he had forgotten what had been given him.
Why should I forgive; what about justice? Forgiveness is not about being weak it is not about being passive and letting someone get away with something. If there is one thing in the world that Christians demand above all it is justice. Many saints have given their lives for it. We may be asked to turn our cheek when someone abuses us, not returning violence with violence; but Jesus also says that when that happens, move on. Don’t remain in a situation where you are a victim.
The best scenario for reconciliation is when one who has harmed another admits to the fault and is willing to make reparation for the harm that is done in order to restore the balance. In the real world such a scenario doesn’t always take place. Sometime those who have hurt others refuse to take responsibility; sometimes they refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong. Sometimes those who have hurt us leave or even die before we can come to a place of forgiveness in our hearts; but it is still important to forgive.
We realize that even though human justice does not always prevail we can trust that in the end God’s justice will. Forgiveness offered even if it is not asked for, not heard or not accepted by the other person is necessary because it becomes the beginning of our own healing. We need to be able to let go of our anger so that our hurt does not continue to deepen.
The message of the Gospel today is not that forgiveness is easy. It is that forgiveness cannot be bounded. There is nothing that we can do for which we cannot be forgiven by God. Our response to that gift is to remember it; to let that gift be alive in us and be willing to offer it to others.
Is there anyone that you need to offer forgiveness to?
Is there anyone that you need to ask forgiveness from?