Forgiveness: Necessary but Difficult


24th Sunday, Ordinary Time

Cycle “A” – 2017


Two brothers had adjoining farms.  For years they helped each other; sharing equipment and goods whenever they were needed.  One day, however, they quarreled, and stopped speaking to each other.  The younger brother even bulldozed a creek bed along the property line, and opened the levee, creating a rushing stream between the two properties.


One day, a CARPENTER showed up at the older brother’s door seeking work.  “Build me a high wall along the creek so I won’t ever have to look at my brother’s farm,” he ordered.  So the carpenter went to work.  At sundown, when the older brother returned, he found not a wall; but a BRIDGE that stretched from one side of the creek to the other.  And, “low and behold,” there was the younger brother, walking across the bridge with his hand outstretched!  “You’re quite a guy to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done to you,” said the younger brother.  And, with that, the two brothers MET in the middle of the bridge – and FORGAVE each other from the heart!



The absolute NECESSITY that we FORGIVE, DISTINGUISHES CHRISTIANITY from most of the other MAJOR RELIGIONS of the world!  It is a “virtue” that Jesus not only “talks about”; BUT “puts into PRACTICE” on nearly every page of the Gospels! — For example, (tonight/this morning) we heard a parable about a man who was forgiven a huge debt by his king, (a debt far larger than he could possibly pay off in a single lifetime! – because scholars tell us that the amount he owed was the equivalent what a laborer would earn if he worked for 150,000 years!).  But, much to the astonishment of Jesus’ listeners; once this servant had been forgiven his astronomical debt; he then REFUSED to forgive the much smaller debt owed by a fellow servant.  And the CONSEQUENCES of this man’s lack of forgiveness were dreadful, indeed!


It is NOT a parable to be taken lightly!  Jesus’ words are CLEAR and STRONG and leave no room for AMBIGUITY: “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


WHAT, then, dies it MEAN – “TO FORGIVE”? — Well, first of all “to FORGIVE” – DOESN’T MEAN to “overlook” the wrong that has been done to us. Forgiveness isn’t a “game” of “let’s just pretend this didn’t happen!” — When we forgive another person, it MEANS that we ACKNOWLEDGE that the other person did some serious wrong to us! We acknowledge that the other person is at fault! — BUT, “forgiveness” also means that WE HAVE DECIDED NOT TO SEEK REVENGE! — We have “given up” any supposed “right” we have to retaliation! — REAL FORGIVENESS IS NOT about “JUSTICE!” — It is not “earned” by good deeds – it is not about “debts repaid,” – or “time served,” – or “apologies offered.”  Forgiveness is not even about whether the person who has hurt us is “worthy” of our forgiveness!  REAL FORGIVENESS is a “GRACE”! – It is a “gift,” FREELY GIVEN (without keeping “score”) – and as such it’s kind of “scandalous” because it completely BYPASSES the vicious cycle of “tit for tat” and “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”


When we forgive someone, we RELEASE that person from the wrong that he or she has done to us.  (Hopefully so that they can get on with their lives; but CERTAINLY SO THAT WE CAN!)


FORGIVENESS is really about US – the ones doing the forgiving! — It doesn’t depend upon the person we are forgiving!  There is no need that they “even” ask us to forgive them! — WHAT MATTERS is that WE are giving up the right to seek revenge for the harm that they have been done to us! — What the person we forgive does with our GIFT OF FORGIVENESS is up to them! — (As with any gift, we can only give it!  We can’t control how the other person will receive it!) — Worst case scenario, the person who has hurt us might even REFUSE our FORGIVENESS! — But THAT doesn’t matter; because we’ve still offered them the GIFT! — We’ve made the DECISION to “let go” of that piece of baggage we’ve been dragging around; sometimes, for years!


Another difficulty with FORGIVENESS is the somewhat irrational FEAR that the person we have forgiven may interpret our forgiveness as “weakness”; and try to HURT us AGAIN! — The only answer to this fear is: that to FORGIVE is “divine!” — It is to act like JESUS!  It is to act like GOD!  And there’s nothing weak about it! — But, if we find ourselves in a situation where abuse or another’s destructive behavior is a danger; then common sense dictates that we take whatever steps are necessary to keep from being harmed again!  Forgiveness DOES NOT MEAN putting ourselves in “harm’s way”!


And, as an ADDED BONUS, (as if doing what Jesus has commanded us to do, isn’t justification enough “TO FORGIVE” those who have sinned against us); — there are a whole “slew” of STUDIES, today, that point to the fact that besides being good for us, spiritually; FORGIVENESS it is also GOOD MEDICINE, physically! — According to the latest medical and psychological research, people who forgive benefit from better immune functioning; lower blood pressure and less coronary artery disease.  They have better mental health than people who do not forgive!  And, they feel better, physically.  People who forgive have fewer outbursts of anger and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.  And, they maintain more satisfying, long-lasting relationships. — Put another way: Allowing yourself to go through life feeling like a VICTIM; or sitting around all day, dreaming up ways to AVENGE yourself on people who have hurt you; is going to take its TOLL on your mind or body or BOTH!


That’s because “UNFORGIVENESS” keeps us CHAINED to whomever we refuse to forgive!  When we go to bed at night, the unforgiven person is there to keep us awake.  When we go on vacation, the unforgiven person travels with us to our destination.  The only way to get “unchained” is to FORGIVE and RELEASE the person who has hurt us!


Dr. Michael Brickley, a psychologist who studies SUCCESSFUL AGING in our culture, says that most centenarians (people who live to be a 100 years old, or more), have learned to GET RID of their “EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE” from the past. — So, if you want to hear AL ROCHER wish you a happy hundredth birthday on the “Today Show,” THEN, you’ve got to FORGIVE OTHERS and YOURSELF for: old hurts, past failures, unfinished business, and regrets over relationships that have failed; and LET THEM GO!


Of course, NONE OF THIS IS EASY!  That’s why JESUS TAUGHT US TO PRAY, (and to pray often):  “Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” — In other words, we can’t do it alone! — We can only HOPE to forgive others as God forgives us, with DIVINE ASSISTANCE!


In  today’s Second Reading, St. Paul tells us: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.”  What Paul is saying here is that we are POWERLESS WITHOUT CHRIST! — That all our greatest resolutions and hopes will remain UNFULFILLED without Christ’s help!  And that it is only THROUGH THE LORD, that we can even begin to “think about” FORGIVING as the GOD FORGIVES!


In today’s Gospel, St. Peter asks Jesus if we should forgive those who have sinned against us as many as SEVEN times; and I’m sure that in doing so, Peter thought he was being very generous, and magnanimous (since the leading rabbis of the day taught that one needed to forgive others THREE times, but NOT FOUR!) — And, I’m also sure that Jesus must have taken Peter’s “breath away” when he said that our FORGIVENESS must be LIMITLESS!


Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just “talk the talk,” Jesus also “walked the walk!” — Jesus TAUGHT us how to forgive, and then he SHOWED us how to forgive – as he was being NAILED to the CROSS! — But, even that was not enough! — RISEN IN GLORY, Jesus gave us the POWER OF HIS OWN HOLY SPIRIT so that WE CAN FORGIVE as he did!  (In other words, having received Jesus’ own Spirit, we have NO EXCUSE not to forgive!)


TODAY, when terrorist attacks throughout the world have unfortunately become rather common, and almost expected — it is probably no accident in GOD’S SCHEME OF THINGS – that we should be confronted, ON THIS 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – with the words of both SIRACH and JESUS: “Set enmity aside … forgive your neighbor’s injustice … could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” — AND, “I say to you, (you must forgive) not seven times, but seventy-seven times!”


HONESTLY, how many of us have been able to do THAT?


As followers of Jesus Christ, we CANNOT TRIVIALIZE the suffering, anguish, and pain that have been experienced – (either from terrorist attacks; or by the victims of serious crime, or sexual or domestic abuse; or by the VICTIMS of ANY form of physical or psychological injury!) — Their suffering, anguish and pain are real, and it is substantial! —– But, at the same time, JESUS CHALLENGES US, today, not to trivialize the POWER OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT – AND not to trivialize his CALL to FORGIVENESS, by offering excuses like: it’s “too hard,” or “unbearable,” or “impossible.” — Because ALL these THINGS are possible with the HELP of GOD!


Jesus’ MESSAGE to “FORGIVE OUR ENEMIES” is at the very HEART of our lives as Christians!  And today, (more than ever), our world NEEDS to hear this message: so that it can be restored, healed and made whole.  That is WHY you and I, (who are the Church), MUST, not only, “talk the talk” of FORGIVENESS; we must also: “walk the walk!”


A British company by the name of “Today Translations,” recently conducted a worldwide poll among language translators to discover the ten hardest words to translate from their native language into English.  After the votes had been tallied, it was agreed that the HARDEST WORD to translate comes from the “BANTU” language which is spoken in the Congo.  The word is “ILUNGA” (my apologies to anyone here who speaks “Bantu,” but I think that that’s how the word is pronounced!)  The word “ILUNGA,” means a “person who will FORGIVE any abuse the FIRST time; TOLERATE the abuse the SECOND time; but NEVER a THIRD time!”


In (tonight’s/this morning’s) gospel, Peter approaches Jesus, (probably just as proud of himself as he could be, since he figured that he’d FINALLY got the “gist” of Jesus’ teaching); and he asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often MUST I FORGIVE? — As many as SEVEN times?”


And Jesus answers, “I say to you, NOT seven times but seventy-seven times!”


In other words, a person who forgives ONCE or TWICE is “ILUNGA.” ONLY A PERSON who will forgive AS MANY TIMES AS IT TAKES can be called “a FOLLOWER of JESUS CHRIST!”


(Tonight/this morning) we are reminded that: families can be healed.  Marriages can be saved.  Friendships can be restored, and Nations can co-exist in peace, IF ONLY we put the teachings of Jesus into practice! — The QUESTION IS, “how many times ARE YOU AND I WILLING TO forgive? —  If we are pagans, “ilunga” is enough.  But, if we are followers of Jesus, we must be willing to forgive again, and again, and again, — until our forgiveness is no longer needed!