Each of gathered here cannot deny that God has been gracious to us in more ways than one. It is not always that God grants what we ask for but he provides what he deems best for us. The reason why these are given to us is that we may share it with others. In other words, all the graces that we receive from God are meant not only for our personal enjoyment but to be shared for the enrichment of others. That is why God sacrifices his only beloved Son on the cross so that he can show his unconditional love and that we may learn from it the necessity to love God in return by loving one another.
The gospel today centres around the question that Simon Peter put before Jesus: “Lord, how many times must I forgive?” It is possible that Simon Peter must have been struggling to forgive someone who has hurt him and that is why this question arises. In this context, Simon Peter is not alone because many of us, like him, may also have asked the same question about forgiveness. Perhaps, we too struggle in forgiving those who have repeatedly caused us harm or pain and there are some who carry this pain a lifetime.
The way Jesus responds to Simon Peter is quite fascinating and enlightening. Jesus gives the figure ‘seventy-seven times’. This number is not merely a mathematical number but what ‘seventy-seven’ (elsewhere it is seventy times seven times) is a way of saying ‘always’. Some may ask, how or why should I forgive always? The parable that Jesus uses to explain the necessity of forgiveness gives us the reason.
God in his mercy always forgives us our failings and if we were to withhold forgiveness when dealing with one another, what we do is that we make a mockery of God’s forgiveness and mercy. When we sin and approach God with a contrite heart and a sincere desire to change, God simply forgives us without counting the frequency of offences or the gravity of the sin – he forgives! In the way Jesus puts forth his teaching to Simon Peter that those who were around him is that there is no instance when withholding forgiveness is permissible especially when we expect God to show us mercy.
Similar sentiments are expressed when the disciples of Jesus came to him and asked him to teach them to pray. In that prayer Jesus includes, ‘forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors’. The Our Father that we pray frequently reminds us of this condition: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us’. It is clear that our plea for forgives seems conditioned by how we have shown forgiveness to others. God lifts up from us the burden of guilt for offences we committed so that we too may lift up from others a similar burden.
Forgiveness never comes easy and it is a myth to think one can forgive and forget. One can never forget the pain or harm caused by others but forgiveness is to be healed of the anger that is associated with that painful event or moment. Even while hanging on the cross and experiencing excruciating pain, Jesus could still pray, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!’ This only goes to show that there is no instance when we should withhold forgiveness because when we learn to forgive, we only set ourselves free to love God even more. Unforgiveness is an obstacle that prevents us from drawing close to God and if we want to be near him, we have to free ourselves from the chains of unforgiveness.
Let us pray today that God will give us the grace to forgive as often as others offend us – not seven times but seventy-seven times.
– 24th Sunday in Oedinary Time (A)