this is from a homily from a few years ago. Maybe it will help.
In today’s Gospel, Matthew asks Jesus how many times we must forgive someone who offends us. He asks: “As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy- times seven.” Now, like all of you, I take the word of Christ seriously. I have done the math and that is 490 times. So . . . I’ve been keeping a list and some people are getting close. I have only known Father for a few months, so he is still in single digits, but I have one friend who is over 400. A couple of my kids are already over 100, and my bride Lucy is over 200. I figure at this rate we have about 25 years left, then. . . “watch out”. Of course that time may be shorter depending upon what number I have managed to hit on HER list.
I’m glad most of you are laughing, because, of course the Gospel message actually means just the opposite, “70 X 7” was an idiom, a figure of speech, to the ancient Jews, it means an UNLIMITED number of times.
“Forgiveness” is a pretty slippery concept. Just what does it mean, and how can we even tell if we have really forgiven someone. “Accept my apology?” “Sure, I forgive you, you jerk.” I was having a conversation with a group of men about a year ago, and someone said that you know you have forgiven someone when you can pray for them. One of the guys, a marine in Viet Nam said, well I forgive Osama Bin Laden, but I would rather spend my time praying that the marines find him and kill him. He didn’t quite get the concept.
I find it providential that our readings today, 9/11/2011, which were selected well over a decade ago, focus on forgiveness.
The dictionary defines forgiveness as the “process of concluding resentment, anger, or indignation and giving up the desire for punishment or restitution.” So how do we do that?
How to forgive in the age of 9/11, Afghanistan, the release of the Lockerbie bomber in Libya, daily news stories of murders of innocents, abuse of minors by parents, teachers, and even trusted clergy. How? And even more to the point, how to forgive when the harm is up close and personal, to our friends, family or selves? And besides “how”, “WHY?” Why should we forgive those who attack and harm us and our loved ones without remorse?
Let’s take the “why” first. Two reasons, for our own well-being here and now, and more importantly, in the afterlife. Nelson Mandela, after serving 26 years unjustly imprisoned was asked if he resented those who put him in jail. He said: “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” It eats us up inside. Not only that, it binds us to that person with an emotional link stronger than steel, to the very person we would probably prefer to never have anything to do with ever again. Harboring ill-will, anger, or resentment, deep down in our guts is the exact opposite of forgiveness. Christ did not seek remorse from those who crucified Him when he asked the Father to forgive them for they know not what they do. We can take a lesson from the Amish in West Nickle Mine Pennsylvania. Perhaps you remember that, coincidentally, almost exact 5 years ago, a deranged killer took 10 little Amish girls hostage and shot them all in the head before turning the gun on himself. 5 girls died, the other 5 are disabled. The Amish community sought no apologies or show of remorse. They forgave, the degree that they visited the shooters family, took them food and mourned their losses together. They didn’t let the hate eat them up.
More importantly, God calls us to forgive. St. Jose Marie Escriva said that we must forgive “because the greatest injury or offense you can suffer is nothing compared to those things for which God has pardoned you.” We see this all throughout scripture. The original translation of today’s Gospel on the unforgiving servant is instructive. His fellow servant owed him 100 denarius, which was roughly 100 days pay. But this same servant owed his Lord 10,000 talents. A talent was equal to 6,000 denarii. So he owed his Lord the equivalent of 60,000,000 denarii. Working 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year, it would take 250,000 years to raise that. An amount his Lord was willing to forgive, only if the servant could also forgive. We see this repeated in the Our Father: “forgive us AS (and only as) we forgive others. Our first reading from Sirach further reinforces this message: “forgive and THEN when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.” That’s WHY.
Still the “how is difficult. To help with the HOW, let me leave you with what I call my 10 rules for forgiving:
- Its hard, it takes time and effort; (God knows this)
- It doesn’t mean to “forget”, forgive with your heart, not your head;
- It doesn’t ignore evil, it confronts it;
- It is not destructive, it doesn’t allow harm to continue, it defends;
- Its not “approval”. We must forgive “wrongs”, otherwise no need to forgive;
And now the harder 5: Remember -
- People are bigger than their faults, they have lives and families too (have compassion, try to see things from there perspective);
- People deserve a second chance;
- Recognize our own contributions to what went wrong;
- Give up the right to “get even”; and
- Wish them well, in God’s will. My marine was OK praying that Osama bin Laden and his followers have a change of heart.
Bottom line, treat others as God treats us. As our Psalm today reminds us: God brings justice, but even more so, He is merciful and gracious. St. James tells us: “mercy triumphs over justice”, and I don’t know about you but I sure am glad for that. God forbid I get what I “deserve”. Let us keep that mercy and forgiveness of God in mind as we approach the altar today to receive the ultimate act of mercy and forgiveness in the Eucharist, and let us pray that He helps us to be like him in mercy and forgiveness.