Healing Power Of Forgiveness
24th Sunday in Ordinary Times

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

On one occasion Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" (Mat 18: 23-35) Knowing that the rabbis taught that a man may forgive his brother up to three times only, Peter thought that his proposal of seven times was extra generous. He did not know Jesus. His answer: "I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven." Then Jesus went on to give two examples:

1. The forgiving master. A servant owed his king 10,000 talents. Then, a talent was the largest unit of money and 10,000 talents was the largest number in counting money. In effect the servant owed his master an "infinite" amount, one which could not be paid even if he and his entire family and all that he owned were sold. So he fell down, did his master homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Knowing that the servant had no way of paying the debt at all, the king, taking pity on him, told him that he was canceling the debt altogether. The servant could not believe what he heard. But that was what his master did.

2. The unforgiving servant. When the same servant left the king, he saw his fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii (one denarius is a laborer's daily wage). He demanded that he be paid immediately. When the latter fell on his knees and repeated verbatim what the first servant earlier said to the king, instead of doing as his master did, he had him thrown into prison until he paid the debt.

When this was reported to the king, he called for the unforgiving servant and told him: "You wicked servant! …Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?" In anger he turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. Then Jesus said: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Parenthetically, since the amount owed was "infinite, then his imprisonment and torture would also be "infinite," as the punishment for unrepented sin is.

From this, we see that God is willing to forgive us when we ask him to provided that we are also willing to forgive others. This teaching is so important that Jesus incorporated it in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us".

Though all of us believe in this teaching, we find it hard to carry out in our day to day life - for several reasons:

1. I have not yet exacted my revenge. In other words, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, if all of us follow the principle of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for eye, then we will see a world of toothless and one-eyed people. I want to call this the "Rambo" mentality.

2. Forgiveness is a sign of weakness. "My pride is at stake here," we say. And so we on go scheming as to how to destroy the offending person by what we say and do against him. And then we justify ourselves by saying that we are only giving him what he deserves. I call this "I can certainly do him one better" mentality.

3. I will forgive not now but later. If I forgive him now, he may not have yet fully realized how deeply he has hurt me. Thus he should first suffer as I had. I call this the mañana (tomorrow) mentality.

Yet, while not forgiving, the desire for revenge keeps gnawing in us. We lose sleep as we plan how we can take revenge, how we can extract our pound of flesh. We become bitter and irritable, thus affecting everyone around us. In short, we not only lose our peace of mind but we also make others suffer. This unforgiving attitude may eventually destroy our very person.

What shall we do? Adopt the Christ mentality. What is it? Jesus' earlier answer to Peter's question: "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven." In other words, we should forgive as often as the one who offended us repents and asked for our forgiveness. And even if he has not yet done so, we should already forgive him in our heart.

Just imagine the peace of mind that we will all have if we live up to this Christ's mentality! We not only reconcile ourselves to God but also to our self, our neighbor and the larger community to which we belong. Then we can channel our efforts on more important matters. Then we can grow and be the person that Jesus wants us to be.

Every Christian owes God a debt he can never pay. It is for this reason that His Son "became flesh" (Jn. 1:14) and "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8) thus eradicating our debt. Because God is ever ready to forgive us as long as we repent, we, must do likewise. Then the cracks in our relationships will be patched up and there will be unity and peace among us.