Today’s Gospel reading speaks to us about the need to offer forgiveness, to our brother or neighbour who has caused offence. In our experience, it is not easy to forgive the person who offends because rancour, bitterness, and grief burn within our hearts. Indeed, people say “I forgive, but do not forget!” We hold resentment in our hearts, whereas Jesus is looking for unconditional love.
It is a fact that tension, rancour, provocations, and in general bad behaviour – all render the act of forgiveness difficult at best, and even possibly worthless. Such breakdown of relationships, lead to the hardening of hearts and rejection of God’s grace. This is the cause of so much misery in the world, and Schisms in the Church.
Jesus spoke of the need to forgive seventy seven times. His teaching is revolutionary. [Mt 18:21-22] He taught that forgiveness was important to reconcile people in the Christian Community. Why seventy seven times? The number seven indicates perfection, and Jesus goes far beyond Peter’s proposal. Forgiveness is always available to a person who has sorrow for their sins. This is much more than weeping a few tears, but an accountability for the wrong done, a heartfelt desire to put things right. We call this contrition and amendment of purpose.
The expression seventy seven times is a clear reference to the words of La’mech who said “I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly La’mech seventy-seven fold”. [Gen 4:23b-24] Jesus inverts the spiral of violence which entered the world following the original disobedience of Adam and Eve, because of the killing of Abel by Cain, and for the vengeance of La’mech.
In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant [Mt 18:23-35], Ten thousand talents donates a sum beyond human comprehension. Perhaps like those elusive Euro Millions? It is beyond our ability to comprehend the capacity of God’s gracious generosity. There is no limit to the depth of his loving kindness and forgiveness.
Although it can be difficult to forgive a person who has wronged us, our forgiveness supported by prayer, opens the way for a great showering of grace. If God so abundantly forgives our transgressions, then we are duty bound to forgive our brother. The Our Father, the prayer Our Lord gave us, which we recite at every Mass says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In the early years of the Christian Church, it was remarked that Christians were known by their love for each other.
The Christian Community today offers an alternative life style to the “dog eat dog” culture of self sufficiency and greed that surrounds us. Our hope is in a living God, who calls us into relationship through his Son, through faith and grace, with the assurance of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life. So let us continue to build a community upon the love of Jesus, and just as our forefathers did, challenge the corrupt society around us with the words of the Gospel.
Fr. Nathan Williams