Matthew 18:21-19:1 Forgiveness
Why is it so hard to forgive? Peter asked the Lord, “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter was certain that he had exceeded the limit or gone well beyond the Lord’s expectations. “As many as seven times???” I would give anything to see Peter’s reaction (and that of the other disciples) when the Lord responded. No, Peter, not seven times… [Whew! Thank God! ] but seventy-seven times. They must have gradually lowered their heads down in dismay!
Why is it so hard to forgive? Because forgiveness appears to make us weak, vulnerable, foolish or downright stupid. “Creatures (all living beings) are so ordered that the preservation of the one depends on the destruction of the other” (Romano Guardini). But the Lord calls us to a higher order of being: To forgive means to be more human!
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. To free myself from what others think of me; from the opinions of the world; from my own faults and failures; from resentment and revenge. I have nothing to prove to anyone because forgiveness requires courage! “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man...Peter, from now on, you will be a fisher of men!” The Lord is capable of great forgiveness because he knows who he is, and he knows what he must do. He is fully human – a man! He invites us to follow him.
Forgiveness is not equivalent to idealism (pie-in-the-sky); it is realism. We must remember that we are all sinners and that justice would demand our very own condemnation. The Lord’s life was a life of forgiveness. He forgave his disciples and his enemies; his people and their occupiers. Most importantly, he forgave our sins and those who sin against us. So we ask him, as often as we pray the Our Father, “to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The world cannot survive if we seek only justice. John Paul II reminded us in his 2002 message during World Peace Day that there is “no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness.”
Forgiveness is not equivalent to forgetfulness; it is equivalent to holiness. Forgiveness is impossible without God’s grace. I can only forgive my enemies and my brothers by an infusion of God’s love for me - a personal experience of God’s mercy towards me, and by a desire to forgive those who sin against me. Therefore, when I forgive, I do not forget what God has done for me. “Do not forget the works of the Lord” (Ps 78:7b). My (constant) conversion could only come about through God’s grace – mercy and love – and I must desire that for my enemies, my brothers and myself. Confession leads to prayer and penance, which leads to forgiveness and holiness.
Finally, forgiveness is not human; it is Christian. To forgive means to imitate the Lord in his dealings with humanity, a rebellious humanity, that does not seek God but rather its own pleasures even at the expense of others. If you are struggling with forgiving, then follow the same steps the Lord taught his disciples: (1) Talk to the Father first. (2) Confess your part. (3) Attack the problem, not the person. (4) Sympathize with the other. (5) Take the Initiative and reach out to the one who offended you.
As you can see, there are no easy steps. Christ never said it would be easy to follow him. Forgiveness challenges us all. But it is what identifies us from all.