Thursday, August 14, 2014

“A life lived without forgiveness is a prison.”

'It is true that God promises forgiveness if we repent, but what assurance have we of obtaining it tomorrow?' - St. Louis de Blois

Gospel text (Mt 18,21—19,1): Peter asked Jesus, «Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?». Jesus answered, «No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven. A king decided to settle the accounts of his servants. Among the first was one who owed him ten thousand gold ingots. As the man could not repay the debt, the king commanded that he be sold as a slave with his wife, children and all his goods in payment. The official threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything’. The king took pity on him and not only set him free but even canceled his debt.

»This official then left the king's presence and he met one of his companions who owed him a hundred pieces of silver. He grabbed him by the neck and almost strangled him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’. His companion threw himself at his feet and asked him, ‘Give me time, and I will pay everything’. The other did not agree, but sent him to prison until he had paid all his debt. His companions saw what happened. They were indignant and so they went and reported everything to their lord. Then the lord summoned his official and said, ‘Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed when you begged me to do so. Weren't you bound to have pity on your companion as I had pity on you?’. The lord was now angry, so he handed his servant over to be punished, until he had paid his whole debt». Jesus added, «So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgive your brother or sister».

When Jesus had finished this teaching, He left Galilee and arrived at the border of Judea, on the other side of the Jordan River.

Jesus says we should forgive each other seventy times seven. I have my calculator. It's right here, and let me check that out...... Seven times seventy.... Yeah!... Four hundred ninety times. I'm keeping track. I want everybody to know that I take the words of Jesus seriously. And I take people who offend me even more seriously. I'm keeping track. I have a couple of guys who are already over four hundred. They are at four thirty-two and four seventy-six. And I'm keeping track.

I am glad that you are laughing because the teaching of Jesus is the exact opposite. Jesus tells us, "Don't keep track." Jesus says, "Don't hold anger and resentment in your heart." Jesus says, "Don't look for vengeance and payback." Instead he says, "Treat one another the way God treats you." Be forgiving the way our generous God is always forgiving to us when we ask him for that forgiveness.

We all know that it’s much harder to let go of a wrong when we’re personally involved. The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading gives us a great example of this. “What is this guy’s problem?” we think. “He was just forgiven a huge debt, but he can’t give someone else a little time to pay back a small loan.” But before you write him off as a scoundrel; take a minute to put yourself in his shoes. Can you imagine your sense of justice and right clouding your vision, causing you to forget the mercy you have just received?

In truth, each of us is like this man

Patience is a Christian virtue because it is apart of the message from the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is forged on the experience that we all have defects. If St. Paul exhorts us to put on a heart of patience with one another (cf. Col 3:12-13), St. Peter reminds us that the Lord's patience offers us the chance of salvation (cf. 2Pet 3:15). For, how many times has God's patience forgiven us in the confessionary? Seven times? Seventy seven times, seven? Maybe more!

Recently I came across what I like to call the "Ten Commandments of Forgiveness." Which do you find most difficult to live with and to accept? I think the first five may be very hard to live with. But I think, at least up here in our heads, we accept them. I think. Here are the first five:

#1. Forgiveness is not easy. It takes time and it takes effort.

#2. Forgiveness is not forgetting. It doesn't mean a change in memory. It means a change in heart.

#3. Forgiveness does not overlook evil. In other words, it is not avoidance. It is not denial.

#4. Forgiveness is not destructive. It doesn't mean that we let hurt and damage continue and go on.

#5. Forgiveness is not the same thing as approval. In fact, the reason that we need forgiveness is that we don't approve. Something has happened that we do not approve of. We will not approve of it. What we can do is forgive.

Now, that's the first five. But then I think it gets more difficult. Think of these next five. Which of those do you not only have trouble living with, but which one would you say, for you, you are not even sure you can accept?

#6. Forgiveness is based on recognizing and admitting that people are always bigger than their faults. In other words, I shouldn't define people by just the way they have treated me. There is more to their lives than that.

#7. Forgiveness is willing to allow a person who has offended me to start over again. Or, do I say, "No room! No second chances! No, I will not ever let go and let you begin again."

#8. Forgiveness recognizes the humanity of the person who has wronged us and also recognizes our own humanity and our own shortcomings and our own contribution to what went wrong.

#9. Forgiveness surrenders the right to "get even." And, finally,

#10. Forgiveness means we wish the person or the group that has hurt us well. In fact, we wish them the best.

No pit is so deep that our God is not deeper still. No forgiveness is so difficult that our God is not there first. And no wound is so bad that our God does not invite us to heeling from within. Compassion, humor, faith, forgiveness, and justice.... God help us!.... Actually, God will help us. Amen

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