Forgiveness

Matthew 18: 21-35
Dn 3:25,34-43 / Ps 25

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
(Matthew 18:25)

There is no way we can repay
Our debt of sins that God forgave;
As we’ve received, we must forgive
No wrong could ever be that grave.

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him a huge amount was brought to him. Since he was unable to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all your debts because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)

Reflection

In Peter’s mind, forgiving a wrongdoer up to seven times was already beyond the limit of the Jewish standard. But Jesus’ answer, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” must have sounded as hyperbolic as the following parable of the unforgiving servant that Jesus related. In the parable, one of the king’s servants owed him ten thousand talents. This amount was as exaggerated as the way the king, taking pity on him, swiftly forgave his debt. Then, immediately after, when that servant met one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he began to choke him, demanding payment. When his fellow servant begged for a little time, he refused, and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. Naturally, this grossly unjust affair reached the king. He turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed – which was impossible to do in the first place. The whole parable must have seemed like a caricature to His listeners until Jesus said with all candor and gravity, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:25)

Jesus was not exaggerating when He said we must forgive seventy-seven times. The number implies forgiving without limit. Surely in our lifetime God must have forgiven our sins more than seven hundred times! And yet how many times have we refused to forgive a neighbor, a relative, an elder, a friend and an enemy in our lifetime? In God’s eyes, our bitterness and feelings of injustice must have seemed so childish and ridiculously exaggerated, compared to the torture and death that His own Son had to endure for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Forgiveness defines our transformation and journey towards the Divine. I have witnessed such a transformation in a friend whose son had an altercation with a subdivision security guard, trigger-happy with his firearm, that led to the young man’s untimely death. As a result, the security guard was convicted for murder. The young man’s mother struggled with the painful loss of her son, and soon after found herself visiting the cause of her grief at the city penitentiary. She wanted him to feel a mother’s deep sorrow. Instead, when she saw his remorse and the pitiful consequences of his rash action to himself and his family, she found God’s grace of forgiveness in her heart, and relayed it to the penitent inmate. Her act of kindness in forgiving her son’s killer eventually led to his conversion.

Thank You, Lord, for making us realize that the best option is forgiveness, because it releases the sinner from the bondage of sin, and destroys the enmity that the evil one wants to propagate. Search our hearts and take away whatever bitterness we may still be harboring within. Amen.

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