24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
In the Gospel of the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus tells us of the need to forgive our brothers and sisters. It is not easy to forgive. There are some offences and insults that go on hurting us. Some say, “I forgive, but I do not forget.” I cannot forget! Resentment, tensions, different opinions, provocations make it difficult to forgive and be reconciled. Why is forgiving so difficult? Do I create a space in my family, my community, my work and my relationships for reconciliation and forgiveness? How? Let us meditate on the third part of the “Sermon on the Community” (Mt 18:21-35), where Matthew puts together the sayings and parables of Jesus on limitless forgiveness.
Is there someone in your life who is difficult to forgive?
What do you do when someone continually hurts you? What do you do when someone has hurt you deeply? Through habit or mean intention, some people create an atmosphere of pain that makes living the Christian life almost impossible. As much as we try, forgiveness seems to slip away. Hatred and emotional distance take its place. At these times, we want to cry out, “Lord! I have really tried. And, I’ve had enough!”
Peter asked Jesus the same question. At what point is forgiveness absurd?
Remember the source of forgiveness. Jesus answered. Remember the source.
Jesus’ point was clear. Forgiveness was not a matter of social grace or necessity. Forgiveness was integral to the Christian lifestyle. As God always forgave the sinner, the sinner should always forgive others. [18:22]
The logic is simple – if we refuse to forgive, how can we expect God to forgive us. We pray it every day in the Our Father… ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. It is one of the most basic lessons of Christianity – indeed of most faiths. But it is also one of the hardest.
We all know the experience of being angry with someone. In our first reading Sirach talks of us harboring anger… this is the anger that is nourished, treasured, and cultivated. It drives out all peace in our lives and ends up poisoning our life. It can quite often be for the most stupid reason – but over time the anger and resentment can build and slowly choke our life. The only antidote to anger is forgiveness – and quite often the only obstacle to forgiving someone is admitting that we are angry and allowing ourselves to give up our anger.
In our second reading we hear from St Paul who tells us that we are meant to live not for ourselves but for the Lord. If the Lord is the Lord of Love and Mercy – the way and the truth to life, then we owe it to ourselves to love. Love is the greatest sign and guarantor of a free person. We all know this from observing St John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and others who were able to forgive and love because they were free interiorly. They did not allow themselves to be imprisoned by anger. They were able to forgive.
I would like to just leave you with a brief image of forgiveness that I heard from NT Wright.
As Christians we must see forgiveness like the air we breathe and store in our lungs. There’s only room for us to inhale the next lungful when we have just breathed out the previous one. If we insist on withholding it, refusing to give someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, we will not be able to take any more in ourselves, and we will suffocate very quickly. Whatever the spiritual, moral, and emotional equivalent of the lungs may be, they are either open or closed, living, or dying – the Old Testament often uses the metaphor of a hardened heart. If it is open, able, and willing to forgive others, it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it is locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other.
Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer in today’s Gospel say it all. If we are still counting how many times, we have forgiven someone, we are not really forgiving them at all, but simply postponing revenge. ‘Seventy times seven’ is a typical bit of Jesus’ teasing. What he means, of course, is ‘don’t even think about counting; just do it’. We must forgive like we breathe – because if we do not, we suffocate ourselves.
Let us pray today for the grace to forgive. And if we cannot bring ourselves to forgive just yet – let us pray for the grace to want to forgive. God always welcomes us where we are, as we are – even if that place is one of unforgiveness. Let us pray today that God’s mercy might soften our hearts, and that we might share the joy of God’s mercy with others.
Let us examine our attitudes to others in our worshipping community. Have we failed to face up to our antagonisms, and tended to justify them by being judgmental of the attitudes of our fellow Christians? The great Church Father, John Chrysostom, has good advice for us as we examine our conscience. If we are not aware of our destructive attitudes, we shall never grow up spiritually. On the other hand, he tells us, awareness of our own failings helps us to find the wisdom, gentleness and compassion that should be ours as true followers of the Savior.
Fr. A. Francis HGN