From Our Pastoral Associate
We live in a world where it is very easy to make rash judgments, and we often make them. Many times, we judge by appearances without knowing a person very well.
When people make mistakes, we immediately categorize and judge the person before finding out exactly what happened. If a person falls, we do not help them or give them the opportunity to make amends for their fault or error. The theme of conflict underlies today’s Gospel. Peter raises the issue of forgiveness. Peter offers his own suggestion: “As often as seven times?” The perfect number, seven, suggests perfect forgiveness, but Jesus takes Peter’s suggestion to the extreme: “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus isn’t talking about math but about the nature of forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness called for is beyond all calculation. Let me share a powerful story of forgiving the unforgivable told by Debbie Morris, author of Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. When I read about this story it helped to understand the kind of forgiveness that Jesus is asking through this Gospel.
At the age of sixteen Debbie and her boyfriend were kidnapped by two men. Over a period of thirty-six hours, they tortured and shot her boyfriend, leaving him for dead, and raped her repeatedly before finally letting her go. For Debbie, there was nothing harder than forgiveness, but nothing more urgent. “The un-forgiveness that I was holding on to, the hate, the anger, was destroying my life. I was continuing to let these men have control over me. I was continuing to let myself be victimized because I was hanging on to the hate. I was unwilling to forgive.” Initially, she felt that justice would bring healing. She kept looking forward to certain milestones: The capture of the two men. Then the trial. The sentence that was handed down. And finally the execution of one of the men. But justice is not what healed Debbie. “When I was able to forgive, not only did the hate, anger, and pain go away, but the shame did too. … When I chose to forgive there was a prisoner that was set free, and I realized that that prisoner was myself.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book No Future Without Forgiveness tells us about forgiveness. “In forgiving, people are not asked to forget. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It involves trying to understand the perpetrators and so have empathy, to try to stand in their shoes and appreciate the sorts of pressures and influences that might have conditioned them. Forgiveness is not sentimental. Forgiveness means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.”
Forgiveness is a liberating act for both the forgiver and the forgiven. By forgiving, we release the weight of resentment and bitterness in our hearts. By being forgiven, we experience God’s grace and love in a deep and transformative way. Jesus shows us the way of forgiveness through his own life and death on the cross. While nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, demonstrating His love and mercy even in the midst of extreme suffering.
Br. Salvador Mejia, OFM
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