There are many ways of hurting people. Sometimes physically. Sometimes psychologically, such as lying or speaking ill to or of another. Often we don’t realize we do this. And when confronted with such an accusation, we frequently, with raised eyebrows and in a singsong fashion ask, “Who me? What did I do wrong?” Quite likely, there is pain inflicted but there is often a refusal to accept guilt. Why?
Today’s Gospel ( 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Matt. 18:21-35) speaks to us of forgiveness as a way of dealing with the refusal. Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive “seven” times. Jesus replies by saying that one should not forgive only “seven” times but “seventy seven” times.
In biblical language, the number “seven” stood for perfection. In reality, Peter was asking Jesus if he should completely (perfectly) forgive his neighbor. Jesus says that he should go beyond forgiving the one neighbor but forgive all others the same way he himself has been forgiven.
This is not forgiveness as a one by one situation, but a complete forgiveness of everyone who has harmed you. The key concept for this dynamic is to forgive others AS you yourself have been forgiven. Today’s gospel illustrates this point.
Whenever we recite the Lord’s prayer, we are actually asking God to forgive us (unconditionally) in the same way we forgive others. Forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiveness of others. The “as” establishes the key conditional item for forgiveness.
Note some of the emotions in today’s gospel that speak to us of forgiveness. “Be patient with me…” ; “…deeply disturbed…”; “…moved with compassion…”; “…have pity….”; “…in anger….” By being cognizant of these emotions, one can almost know what the story is about. Makes us realize how important emotions are to express and accept forgiveness. It seems that we must feel an emotion in order to be forgiven and forgiving. “Patience” and “compassion” come from the idea of “suffering.” Perhaps when we are being forgiven or are forgiving others, the emotions of “patience” and/or “compassion” could make the forgiveness much more real.