(24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020)
Reflecting on the Parable of Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18: 21-35), Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive a brother who sinned against him. Jesus says, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” We must understand from this Parable that our Heavenly Father has forgiven us much more than we will ever have to forgive anyone who sins against us. He dismisses our offensive behaviour towards Him through His compassion and mercy. Jesus teaches us about forgiveness from the heart – sincerely forgive.
How often should we forgive? Forgiveness is something difficult for us to practice in our lives. As for me it is painful topic to preach about. It is always easier to say than doing it. Often we say, “I’m not going to forgive him/her until he/she apologises to me!” Many of us are finding difficult to forgive others. Even if we do forgive, it was just lip services but because in actual fact, we have not forgiven the person whole-heartedly. Our response of forgiving someone that harm us, must come from the compassionate and merciful heart of the Heavenly Father, as the Psalmist says today, “The LORD is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.” (PS 102).
When we forgive, we need to learn how to forget and letting go, as well. Many of us still say that we struggle to forgive because we cannot forget the person and its issues. Forgiveness does require for us to go through physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional pain, again, before we can truly forgive and forget. Those are real difficult times as the wounds are deep and though it has happened in the past, its consequences and impacts of that wrong doing still reminds us of the event, today.
What grudges, resentments and anger am I holding in my life? Are there anyone whom I have shut out of my life? Today’s the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus says that resentment and anger are hateful things and we, the sinners, hug them really tight, (Eccl 27: 33). The reading went on saying that we are only hurting ourselves with anger and resentment when we embrace them tightly. We also become more miserable and difficult to be around with. That resentment and anger that we don’t let go, will follow and disturb our livelihood till our end of days.
So, we need to forgive our opponents because forgiving others is a compulsory condition for receiving and earning God’s forgiveness. We can begin to pray about unforgiveness and the Book of Ecclesiasticus assures us, “when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.” When we start to pray for the willingness to forgive others, God forgives our sins and heals our hurts.
How do we go about this forgiveness progression?
I would like to end with a paragraph from one of my favourite texts of St Paul’s letter to Ephesians. “Do not use harmful words in talking but use only helpful words, the kind of words that build up and provide what is needed so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. Do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad… Get it of all bitterness, passion and anger. No more shouting and insults. No more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind-hearted and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ,” (Eph 4: 29-32).
In our daily lives, we tend to have fewer words with our spouses, friends, colleagues, siblings and children. To top it off, they are often harmful as it do come in forms of upsetting words, the manner we deliver the message, that they eventually create this very toxic environment and negative feelings within the family, all in the name of we care about them and this is how we express that care. Done over and over again, and without realizing it, it will definitely cause hurt or pain towards the recipient. On the other hand, as a recipient of these negativity, if we do not forgive and help the person to adjust their ways and delivery of their message, that will damage our relationship (both short and long term) with the person and it also hurt our own relationship with Christ.
So this letter of St Paul to Ephesian reminds us that we should not keep anger in us, hold grudges, be arrogant or be violent and do not repay anyone evil for evil, but if it is possible, do live peacefully with all. If we cannot forgive others, you cannot expect forgiveness from God. We must be merciful and forgive our fellow brothers and sisters who have sinned against us and in pursuit for God forgiveness on our sins. Live in harmony with one another. Let’s be grateful and forgive others from the heart, sincerely and a peaceful life is promised to you.
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy