After the Eucharistic prayers we are invited to join in and recite the prayer Jesus taught us. Each Sunday, we stand here and recite this prayer and the words roll off our tongue’s easily and often we fail to connect the words we are reciting with how we live our lives as followers of Christ. That is one of the problems with those prayers we recite from memory, they are words we recite but often they do not connect with our hearts. How many times do we need to hear the scriptures telling us God wants our hearts not our sacrifice before we pay attention?
This parable of the unworthy servant is one we easily respond to with indignation over the actions of the servant whose debt was forgiven. We are appalled at his demands for a debt to be paid when he has just had his own debt forgiven after making the identical plea. Yet when Jesus told this parable he was talking to us so we would examine our own actions in forgiving others. Jesus is telling us we cannot live a life by the principle of “do as I say not as I do.” No, he demands we forgive seven times seventy times, each time every time.
Each time we come to mass we pray the prayer Jesus taught us and say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yet we refuse to forgive those who have done awful things against us. Don’t we realize what we are saying in that prayer. We are telling God to treat us in the same manner we treat those who have hurt us. We believe if someone hurt us, then they must pay a price for the pain they have caused us. But when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are saying something different than we believe. The truth is we are telling God we know he will not forgive us since we have not forgiven those who have hurt us. We are telling God he can punish us, and we do not care because we accept the fact unforgiveness has a penalty.
The truth is we just do not understand forgiveness, how it works and what it is and how we not only receive it but give it to others. Our problem is we have been taught by our parents, by society that wrong must be punished. That concept permeates the way we teach our children, our school systems, our societal and church laws. We get the concept that if we do wrong, we must seek forgiveness. Because we understand that, when someone commits a wrong against us, we believe they must pay a price to be forgiven by us.
God expects something else from us and tells us why. God tells us in Sirach, wrath and anger are hateful things, but we hold on tight to them. The vengeful will suffer God’s vengeance. Forgive your neighbors injustice. This is the Old Testament which we have come to believe teaches us “an eye for an eye” is fine with God. Well God is telling us it is not fine with Him because he expects us, created in His image to be merciful and forgiving because God is merciful and forgiving. Do you think Jesus on the Cross as he cries out “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” was not impacted by the horror inflicted upon him that day?
His divinity did not override his humanity as his flesh was ripped from his body by flogging, his body aching from the heavy burden carrying the cross, his abandonment by those who followed him for three years, the pain of nails being driven in his hands and feet. The horrible death of crucifixion was more painful than we can imagine and yet he forgives. What those words represent to us is how forgiveness works, it is a decision based on what God expects us to do.
If we call ourselves Christians, believers, followers of Christ, disciples or just Catholic’s we must forgive those who have hurt us. Forgive from our hearts because God requires it of us. We know the horrible things people have done to each other and why it is hard to forgive. How do you forgive that drunk driver who killed your spouse or child? How do you forgive that person who molested you or your child? How do the spouses or parents of those killed on 9/11 forgive those who flew those planes into the towers? We have seen or heard of the pain inflicted by generations of feuding families or countries because of past wrongs? The problem is we cannot get past the fact we want those who hurt us to suffer as we have suffered. We want them to pay a price before we forgive.
God knows that barrier exists, and God has a solution and that is for us to plan to forgive because forgiveness is for us. Forgiveness is for us to let go of the anger, the hurt, the pain, the desire for vengeance because those things are a barrier between us and God. Forgiving is so we can allow God’s grace to begin to heal those wounds they have inflicted upon us. We need to stop saying but you do not know what they did to me. We need to stop saying I will forgive if they come to me and beg for forgiveness. We need to say, I forgive you and trust that decision and those words will allow our hearts to catch up with our desire to do God’s will.
We need to understand what awaits us if we do not forgive from our hearts. We need to understand how God puts our act of forgiveness ahead of all those pious spiritual acts we perform while harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. That concept is not me talking but God talking to us. If you bring your gift to the altar and remember your brother has something against you go and be reconciled with your brother, then come back and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24).
How many times must we forgive? Seven times seventy times, each time every time, even if they deny hurting you, even if they continue to hurt you. We need to practice what we profess and believe even if our hearts do not feel like forgiving. When we forgive, I promise you, you will feel the most freeing power of God within you and your hearts will respond to the healing power of God’s forgiveness.