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Forgive Often

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

(Sirach 27:30—28:7; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

It is not possible to be loving persons if we are not at the same time willing to forgive those who sin against us.  Questions arise even after we admit that a believer must also be a forgiving person.  How often should we forgive? Should we not set a limit to the number of times we are to forgive another who wrongs us?  Should we not make policies that guide us as to whether one is deserving of our compassion and forgiveness or not? 

In our first reading today from the book of Sirach we are told to overlook the faults of others on account of the covenant agreement we have entered with God.  Anyone who holds on to anger, hate, and vengeance and refuses mercy and forgiveness to another is a sinner undeserving of God’s mercy.  We must bring enmity and bitter division between ourselves and others to an end; we are to put a stop to hostility and bearing grudges.

In today’s gospel reading Peter does not refuse to forgive but asks Jesus how often he must forgive.  Is there not a limit to how often we are to forgive?  Jesus responds to this question by stating that forgiving, as the act of a believer who is fully aware of God’s tender mercies, knows no limits.  It is not a question of quantity but of quality: we must forgive from our hearts and it should be a way of life.  This is because God is so generous as to forgive sinners each and every time they come to him begging for mercy.  In the parable Jesus uses to teach forgiveness, the mercy and compassion of the king resembles God’s mercy.  Furthermore, like the servant, the debt of wrongs we owed God and for which he has forgiven us is much more greater than that owed to us by even our greatest offender.

The teaching on forgiveness appears frequently in the Bible and there are a number of points to remember here.  First, we should not go about forgiveness as if the injuries and harm done to a person do not matter.  The injuries done to ourselves and others, which we are called to overlook as believers, cause real pain so that forgiving is the attempt to let go of bitterness, anger, and the desire for payback so as to bring about healing through dialogue and understanding.  Forgiving is the only way to overcoming the bitterness and anger we feel when we are wronged.  We always hunger for understanding and clarity whenever we suffer a grievous injustice.  Another important point to remember is that not all are able to forgive completely at first.  Such persons have suffered significant injuries, the wounds inflicted on them are deep and the damage to them is far reaching.  It is very difficult for such persons to forgive fully without first of all taking time to rest and recover; they cannot forgive without help.  For them, forgiving must be a slow motion event that keeps on building upon itself.  Recognizing these kind of persons and the difficulties they face means we must exercise patience and care if we desire their full pardon.

As faithful Catholics who profess belief in the forgiveness of sins, we take the command to forgive others just as our heavenly Father forgives us as both a duty and a blessing.  We are confident of the Holy Spirit’s ability to repair our hearts and to assist us in forgiving those who sin against us.  May forgiveness become a practice and a way of life for all Christians.  May we always experience the joy of fully giving and receiving forgiveness.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon….  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life” (Francis of Assisi).


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