Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger, his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
I believe by our nature, men, including Jesus, are story tellers. We tell stories to make a point or to define our place in history.
Often these stories paint a picture of our past and our future. Many of us can fondly remember countless narratives passed on by our own fathers. These tales teach us lessons about life, history, family and sometimes faith. My father was no different and still to this day loves telling a great tale.
I can remember, as a boy, my dad telling us kids a story of how, when he was about eight years old, he got into trouble for throwing rocks at the chickens behind the family’s grocery store. Thinking he had killed the chickens, he hid their remains in the outhouse “hole” behind the corner store.
Sparing the gory details, it suffices to say the chickens were not dead and the subsequent of the retrieval of the live chickens from the hole in the ground made for a gross and hilarious tale with a great life lesson: When you make a mistake, admit your mistake and take responsibility for it. The consequences will surely be less “burdensome” if you take responsibility sooner than later. This is a lesson I remember to this day.
Jesus also teaches us, much in the same way, with parables throughout the Gospels. His stories give us an opportunity to relate and understand lessons based on our own human experiences. Undoubtedly, some of these parables were likely passed to Jesus by His own foster father, Joseph.
The parable of the forgiving Master, God, and the unforgiving servant, me, is particularly poignant today as I look around at our circumstances. The “world” attacks us because we may not conform to “it’s” perilous views. The “little one” sows discord and anger in the hopes of dragging more souls down into the pit of hell.
Often, I feel indicted by my own unwillingness to forgive. In the Gospel, Jesus does not tell me that forgiveness must be requested by the offender. He tells me to forgive seventy-seven times.
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)
My own flawed human reaction says, “Ok God, but that is a lot of times.”
To forgive does not mean I go back for more mistreatment. It does mean, however, I must let go of the anger or resentment I am holding onto after having been wronged. For most of us, myself included, letting go of anger can be very difficult. On the advice of a good priest received in the confessional, I have learned to take a few simple steps.
- Love them to conversion. In other words, pray for the offender and be kind in all circumstances.
- Do my best to move along from the injury by not talking and thinking about it. If I find myself drawn into a conversation about the offense, change the topic or remain silent.
- Do not put myself in further circumstances which will add to the offense. If the offender chooses to continue to hurt you, be polite, cordial and move along from there.
- Lastly, bind this suffering to the Cross of Christ. When meditating on the crucifixion, we can see how Jesus offered Himself willingly for ALL of our sins.
This lent, as the storm, fed by the wrath and chaos of the world, explodes around us, I pray God grants me a more forgiving heart.
If Jesus, hanging from the cross at His last breath, can ask God to forgive His torturers, surely He will give me the grace to forgive, now and in the future, others and myself.
[Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”] They divided his garments by casting lots. (Luke 23:33)
- Forgiveness is freedom.
- Forgiveness is peace.
- Forgiveness is mercy.
- Forgiveness is hope.
- Forgiveness is love.
God is good.