If someone does me wrong, do I tend to get even or do I look for some other way to resolve the issue? Vengeance comes to mind as a possibility. But the fact is there are often unwanted results which wind up causing more problems.
In the Gospel for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 18:21-35) Peter and Jesus deal with a similar question. Peter asks, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?”
Jesus replies by way of a parable. “A certain king decided to settle accounts with his servants. He came across a servant who owed him much money. If the servant couldn’t pay he and his family would be sold until repayment was made. The servant realized what was happening, so he asked the king for patience and mercy. The king had compassion and forgave the servant his debt.”
“That same servant, who had been forgiven, came across a fellow servant who owed him money. The forgiven servant asked his fellow servant for immediate repayment, which was virtually impossible. Then he asked for patience and mercy. This was denied him, so time in jail was his only option.”
“Other servants, observing this interchange of behavior, were horrified because they knew that the demanding servant was forgiven his debt because of the patience and mercy of the king. Yet, he decided not to exercise the same patience and mercy on his fellow servant as the king had exercised on him. So the larger group of servants went to the king to share the news.”
“So the king called back the servant whose debt he had forgiven, and said to him, ‘You should have had patience and mercy on your fellow servant as I had on you.’ So the king then arranged that the wicked servant would be responsible for repaying the entire debt immediately.”
What just happened here? We know that the Gospel is about forgiveness of others. And this “forgiveness” is not just a one time gesture but also a constant occurrence. This “forgiveness” must be motivated by patience and compassion in order to be genuine. Incidentally, the word “compassion” comes from the Latin which means “to suffer with.”
If the Gospel is about constant forgiveness of the other, what about forgiveness of the self? It seems to me that patience and compassion are very important in that area as well. We often need forgiveness, which is what the sacrament of Reconciliation is about. We often feel sorry for our failures. In fact, we “suffer with” that repentance which brings us to confession.
There is a reminder which can be an ongoing reflection of what forgiveness is all about. And that is the Lord’s Prayer. How often do we pray it without reflecting on the words? The phrase that touches the above Gospel is,
“Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive others…”
This means that forgiveness is a two way street. We will not be forgiven unless we forgive others (including ourselves).