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DO WE FORGIVE AS GOD FORGIVES?

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Mt.18: 21-35

We have much for which we should thank Saint Peter – even his quick tongue! Again and again he rushed into speech and his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching that is immortal.

On the occasion recorded in today's scriptures Peter wanted to bring before Jesus the whole subject of forgiveness. The Rabbis taught that a man must forgive his brother three times. Peter thought he was being lavish in forgiving, multiplying their figure by two and adding one for good measure! He expected Jesus to pat him on the back.

To his surprise Jesus said, "Not seven times, but seventy times seven times." In other words He was telling Peter there must be no limit to forgiveness. The fact that Peter had put a limit to the number of times he should forgive, showed that he did not understand the nature and meaning of forgiveness. If a number had to be specified it would require a legalistic system of bookkeeping to keep count – and that would make a loving relationship impossible.

Then Jesus went on to tell the story of how God forgives. There was a servant who was forgiven a great debt. After being forgiven, he then dealt abominably with a fellow-servant who owed him a paltry amount in comparison. He would not forgive him and for this he was utterly condemned.

The majority of us are unable to exercise forgiveness as God does, which is why Jesus has taught us in the "Our Father" to be fair and to ask our heavenly Father to forgive us in the manner that we forgive.

And how do we forgive? Often grudgingly! We might say, 'Well, I suppose I must accept your explanation, but what you've done has given me a different view of your character, and things can never be quite the same again between us.' Supposing God forgave us like that how would we react?.

We forgive in proportion to the hurt we have received, not in proportion to the sorrow which is felt by the one who has hurt us. Supposing God forgave us like that what would we think?

We forgive in a formal and superior way and weeks, even years, go by before the wrong done ceases to rankle. Supposing God forgave us like that how would we feel??

We forgive conditionally. 'Very well, I'll overlook what you've done this once, but remember, if the same thing happens again, I don't want to know. It's the end. Do you understand? Have I made myself clear?' Supposing God forgave like that what hope would we have?

The generosity of God's forgiveness is portrayed for us in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the father goes out to meet the prodigal on his return. So it is with divine forgiveness. God comes to meet us half-way. Indeed, if He did not, we should never find the grace of repentance when once we had lost His friendship. In fact God runs to meet the sinner. Jesus is stressing here the instantaneous effect which our act of contrition has on God. Absolution follows contrition in the same instant. We know this is true. In fact we expect God to behave in this fashion and how grateful we are that He does!

And the parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us how complete is God's forgiveness. The prodigal is dressed in the best robe, fresh shoes for his tired feet, the fatted calf is killed in his honour, and a ring is put on his finger. Is this not how we experience absolution? There is a debt to be paid, of course, either on this side of the grave or the other, for justice has to be done. But we are forgiven absolutely, there and then.

If God forgives us in this fashion, so must we forgive those who offend us. It is not enough that we should extend to the one who hurt us a formal, frigid hand of reconciliation in order to avoid a scene or to keep up appearances. We must forgive from our hearts as Our Lord says and, as far as possible, the offence should be as if it had never been.

Lord Jesus, help us to be the children of our Father in Heaven, by daily encouraging us “to forgive those who trespass against us” as we pray He will “forgive us our trespasses”.

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