What does it mean to forgive?
Should we expect forgiveness from God, if we do not offer it to others?
Sisters and brothers, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus told a parable about forgiveness. A certain person having been forgiven a debt of a large sum of money went immediately to one who owed him a very small sum, grabbed him by the throat and demanded payment. This behavior may puzzle us as we wonder at the man’s double-standards and his ingratitude. But Jesus told this parable to illustrate that this is the way we act, every time we refuse to forgive someone.
The parable is a clear example of our tendency to plead for forgiveness when that’s what we need or want, but to deny it to someone else, when they seek it from us. We would do well as aspiring Christians, to heed what we pray for when we say every time in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. The implication here is that, we shouldn’t expect forgiveness from God, if we haven’t offered it to others.
What does it mean to forgive? It means not to hold a grudge or seek to take revenge. Forgiveness means not to try to humiliate or hurt those who have hurt us. It means not to keep digging into the past, that particular turbulent event. It means not to repay evil with evil. Forgiveness stops the cycle of revenge, and cuts the chain of hatred. Forgiveness should go a long way in erasing painful memories that might otherwise be played over and over again in our mind and heart. For this reason, forgiveness is liberating.
Forgiveness explains what turned the life of St. Paul around. His hard heart, coated with
hostility and hatred, became a soft heart full of love and compassion. It was a tremendous change. The forgiveness he received from the Lord resulted in a willingness to forgive others. In his letter to the Colossians, he urges people to learn to forgive: ‘’bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you must do’’ (Col. 3:13).
Forgiveness is a beautiful concept, but it’s hard to practice. There are times when we feel we can’t forgive because we feel wronged, because we’ve been hurt, because we become defensive and because, often, we feel self-righteous. There are times when we genuinely fear that we’ll be wronged again. But there are times, and these are many, when we won’t forgive out of a selfish and stubborn pride, as though we are the only ones, that have been wronged.
Forgiveness is hard to practice, but here are some suggestions that may assist the process:
Firstly, we have to realise that we cannot ask or expect forgiveness from God, if we are not prepared or able to forgive others sincerely. We must be mindful of God’s mercy and how we have benefited from that, how many times He has forgiven us, and continues to forgive us. We must approach the issue of forgiveness with humility – knowing that we ourselves are not necessarily better than those who have wronged us, that Christ Himself was wronged, betrayed, and killed under the legalistic standards of this world, and yet was able to forgive. Are we more righteous than Christ?
Forgiveness is not always automatic. It is very often a process. Wounds take time to heal. But what matters is our willingness to embark on the process, our willingness to forgive. The desired result may take some time. This process of forgiveness will require prayer, and even reflection of the matter, under the guidance of a spiritual father. We should ask and pray to God to help us forgive, to show us how to forgive, to soften our hearts, and to give us the strength and the courage. And what is important is whether we are prepared to let it go, or not.
Finally, the real test of forgiveness is love. We can only pardon each other, as long as we cultivate to love. If we do not love, we will find it difficult to reconcile. It is love that covers a multitude of sins. It is love that saves. And, it is forgiveness that expresses the love of God, in action.