These readings about forgiveness resonated with me today. So many stories I read have something to do with anger and the lack forgiveness. Why is it so hard to forgive?
I understand that there are some resentments that have piled up over generations of people. People with power have abused the powerless. This is nothing new of course. Since Cain killed Abel there have been those who have killed others for many reasons.
Throughout the Pentateuch there are stories of war, and whenever a war is won, the victor takes great advantage of the vanquished. There was not a whole lot of forgiveness going around.
In our Gospel reading today, Peter asked a very poignant question.
The English Standard Version says, “seventy seven times.” Greek is a tricky language!
Seven is one of those biblical numbers that indicates completion. Remember how the LORD rested on the seventh day?
Jesus answer is not really meant to be interpreted as 490 times, or 77 times. It is meant to indicate an infinite number. There should be no limit to forgiveness.
To reinforce the concept, Jesus tells a parable. What is interesting is that the parable is about a servant who does not forgive, and the consequences.
And this is not just any parable. It’s a Kingdom of Heaven parable. That makes it very important.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who wanted to settle his debts. He had lent money, or had given food or other goods, and was owed repayment. It was time to settle up.
A servant who owed money to the king could not pay, and he would have put the servant in prison until he could pay, but the servant begged and pleaded with the king. The king had mercy on the servant, and forgave the debt.
That servant represents us when we go before the LORD to be judged at the last day. We will most likely plead and beg before him, not to sent us away, but to welcome us into heaven.
In the parable, we see that the servant then went and demanded money from one who owed him, and that servant begged and pleaded to be forgiven of his debt. But instead of forgiving the debt, like what was done for him, he did not listen, and had that servant put into prison until he could pay.
Now according to the laws of commerce and capitalism, he had every right to do so. But he did not have mercy, and when the king found out he did not have mercy on the other servant, he was mad!
He took back his mercy and had the first servant put into prison. He had been shown mercy, but he could not show mercy on another.
The parable ends with the lesson of the story:
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus is saying that if we do not forgive others, neither will we be forgiven.
This is a lesson that is lost on the modern world. There is very little forgiveness going around. Instead there is lots of vengeance and anger that is manifested by destruction and rioting.
People who have been at the fringes of society have built up a lot of anger over the smallest things. They like to take out their anger on anyone who looks vulnerable, or even on an inanimate object. They tend to blame everyone else for their own problems. They will strike out at others, burn cars, and tear down statues, but they will never know peace. Why? Because there is no forgiveness.
Listen to the lesson from Ecclesiasticus:
- He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord,
- and he will firmly establish his sins.
- Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done,
- and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
- The words of that last sentence seem very similar to the Lord’s Prayer, don’t they?
- But, many people prefer to judge others, to find faults, to put others down.
- St. Paul wrote to the Romans about this.
- “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. So each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
It is important to remember that we too, will be judged by God at the last day. We will not be able to hide anything from the Judge. And if we do not forgive others, then we are not following Jesus.
No forgiveness, no peace.
St. Paul also wrote to the Romans these oft repeated words: “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
And these words which are very familiar to all of us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiving someone who has wronged you is not easy. It’s easier to seek vengeance, but violence begets more violence. No forgiveness, no peace.
Rather, know forgiveness, know peace. The peace of God be with you all.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.