In today’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus how often should I forgive if they sin against me? Jesus said seventy seven times. There was no discussion on whether the person asked for forgiveness. We can then conclude we are commanded to forgive without condition. Why is this? The Mayo Clinic published an article called: Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness that says we pay dearly if we do not forgive. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiveness is not only good for the soul, but it is also good for our mental and physical health.
The First Reading tells us to forgive your neighbor the wrong that is done, then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. This is similar to what Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. If I want to be forgiven, I must also forgive. This is the perspective of forgiveness from the person who had been harmed.
There is another perspective of forgiveness. It is from the one who did the offense. The parable of Jesus tells us the slave owed 10,000 talents. One talent is worth 6,000 denarii. A denarii is a day’s salary, at minimum wage, 10,000 talents is equivalent to $7.2B by today’s standard. The lord of the slave ordered the slave and his family to be sold but the slave begged and said he will pay the debt. His lord released the slave and forgave the debt. Forgiving the debt does not mean forgetting the debt or that the debt did not happen. It means no payment was demanded. There are some points we learn about forgiveness when we are the offender:
- Forgiveness of debt requires admission of debt. The slave was forgiven because he admitted his debt. He did not deny his debt but begged for patience and promised to pay the debt.
- On the Cross Jesus unconditionally forgave those who killed him. But this forgiveness is of no use if there is no desire to admit guilt. This is why during confession, if the priest discerns there is no repentance by the confessee, absolution is not given. And even if absolution is given, the sin is not forgiven. Yes, we forgive unconditionally and it is not our problem if the one who offended us does not repent.
- While we forgive unconditionally, we must never forget. As we said, forgiveness means we do not demand payment for a debt. In the parable, the master did not forget what the slave owed. The master even mentioned it before throwing the slave to be tortured until he paid all his debt. We will forgive seventy seven times, but we must not forget what was done, not to hold a grudge, but to learn how to avoid being harmed again.
Forgiving others is easier said than done. Forgiveness is dying to self. St Paul said in the Second Reading, We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. The one who forgives dies to the Lord. The one who repents also dies to the Lord. It is in forgiving and asking for forgiveness that we die to God and live to God.
Forgiving others is an act of will because it goes against our emotions. This is why we also pray for the ones who offended us, even if we do not feel like it. We ask God to bless them abundantly and when we do, the healing process begins. We are not expected to like the one who hurt us, but we should treat them with respect because they too are created in God’s image. We are to do good to them and bless them.
Unforgiveness shows we do not trust God, because we want to collect what is due to us, instead of trusting the justice of God. Unforgiveness also binds us to those who hurt us. They control us and we become their slave. So how can I be set free from the slavery of unforgiveness? By not demanding payment for what they owe me. If I continue to dwell in the evil done to me, if I feel angry every time I see this person or think about this person, I am not free. Which is why I need to come to Jesus because he is the only One who can set me free. Every mass is an opportunity to experience the healing power of God. The Psalm today tells us: it is the Lord who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. We bring our resentments, anger and grudges to God asking him to heal us. During consecration we pray for the persons who hurt us and we ask the Lord to bless them, abundantly. We tell Jesus we release them from their debt and as we set them free, God heals us and sets us free. Come to Jesus, he wants to heal you and set you free. And when the Son of God sets you free, you shall be free indeed, in Jesus’ name.