This Sunday we have this insightful reading from the Book of Sirach. He reminds the people of Israel that holding grudges destroys relationships – destroys the person who holds them. He goes a step further and suggests that when they hold grudges they end up on the wrong side of God. He calls us to mercy and suggests that when we extend mercy to others we receive mercy ourselves.
In the Gospel, Peter seems to want to put a limit on forgiveness. He suggests that forgiving someone seven times is enough. Jesus pushes him and suggests 77 times is more like it…in other words forgiveness is a forever attitude and action, then Jesus tells the story that highlights the relationship between forgiveness and behavior. His story points out the reality that often times our sin and our need for forgiveness is far greater than the sin we are upset about. He suggests that the forgiveness we have received should prompt us to be generous with the faults of those around us.
In the second reading, Paul points out with great clarity that we belong to Christ. Whether we are alive or dead, we belong to Christ because he has lived and he has died for us. His life, death and resurrection were aimed at setting us free, at giving us life, at drawing us into the love of the Trinity.
There is a clear theme of forgiveness in our scriptures today and it is good for us to think about forgiveness. Whenever I talk about forgiveness I am pulled in two directions. How do I talk about the teaching of Jesus and how do I keep people safe? Here is my dilemma: a family comes and tells me that one member of the family is abusing other members of the family. The family has sought help for their abusive family member and nothing changes. On the one hand we have the teaching of forgiveness and on the other hand we have a very clear and present danger – the danger of further abuse. How do we put forgiveness into practice?
You might say well that is a bit dramatic Father – the answer is clear – the family has to protect themselves from the dangerous member and so they have to move away. GOOD!
What about the husband/wife/friend who over and over again takes the other person for granted? Who repeatedly betrays, lies, reneges on commitments? How does one forgive repeated betrayal? How does one forgive years of emotional or verbal abuse? How does one forgive repeated acts of disrespect?
On the one hand the scriptures encourage us to nurture forgiveness and on the other we live in a world where we hurt others and are hurt by others. How do we practice forgiveness?
Each of us must learn to practice forgiveness. We also must teach – through words and action, what forgiveness looks like. Forgiveness is not about denying dangerous behavior. Forgiveness is not about downplaying the damage done. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness is not about putting one’s self in a dangerous position over and over again.
Forgiveness is about choosing not to hold on to anger and wrath. Forgiveness is about letting go – not nurturing the wound, not plotting revenge, not retaliating whenever possible.
Practically speaking, I can choose to forgive someone what they have done and yet walk away from them so that the other can no longer hurt me. Practically speaking I can remove myself from a dangerous situation and still value and practice mercy and compassion.
Today the readings urge us to look at the practice of forgiveness in our lives. God never tires of forgiving us. We should work hard at practicing forgiveness in our relationships. Jesus reminds us that there should be no limit to our forgiveness. In the parable it is clear that people are more important than money. Mercy and compassion are highly valued.
There have been a number of funerals this summer. People have died at various stages of life…some were just beginning their lives, some had accomplished a few things and some had lived a long time. Research shows that one of the attitudes that helps people die well is forgiveness. Forgiveness of self for things done and for things undone. Forgiveness of others. Forgiveness of God.
That might strike us as strange but sometimes we hold God accountable for what we think God has or has not given us. We hold God accountable for our bodies and minds and emotions – for our health or lack thereof, for relationships tried and failed, for our work, our abilities – the things we are good at and the things we are not good at.
Forgiveness helps us to live well and it helps us to die well. How do I practice forgiveness? Is it something I expect of others but am reluctant to offer? Do I expect God to forgive me and refuse to forgive my brother or sister?
There is a little saying that suggests that forgiveness does not mean the other was right or innocent. Saying, “I forgive you” sets the other person free and calls them to a new way of being. They can either step up or not!
Saying, “I forgive you” means I no longer carry the event, the wound in my heart. The event no longer has power to shape my life.
Perhaps this week we can think about how we practice forgiveness.
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Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI