One of the most difficult challenges in life is forgiveness. In fact, I might argue that unforgiveness is the cause of so much pain in our world, in our towns, in our families and in our hearts. We can be in such bondage to our hurts that we fail to see exactly how toxic they really are as we go along our days. I once read the statement: “Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted” and I felt its truth—feel its truth.
Peter approaches Jesus with a very generous offer. It appears to go to the widest boundaries of the time—finite, and Jesus responds with not seven times but seventy-seven times—infinite.
This servant owes so much to his master and as he begs for mercy by promising to repay, the reader understands the absolute impossibility of this. He is totally at the mercy of his master for his life and that of his family. Yet, we read that in an instant, he is forgiven—done, forgotten, free. It is that simple with God—mercy flows freely to those who ask. Following this encounter, it is so easy to judge this servant’s behavior as deplorable in the context of the mercy extended to him. Is he that disconnected from the encounter to completely forget to be merciful to others? Are we?
Father Eamon Tobin in his book, “How to Forgive Yourself and Others”, states that forgiveness is largely an act of the will and not a matter of feelings. This makes sense in line with Jesus’ words on forgiving from the heart. Father Tobin goes on to explain that forgiveness:
- is a process where we seek to rid our mind and heart from hurt and resentments because of what someone did to us;
- it is spiritual surgery that we perform on ourselves with God’s grace so as to free ourselves from the venom we feel;
- is a gift we give ourselves so we do not remain stuck in the past and in our pain. When we are able to forgive, we can move from being a victim.
Forgiveness is not a surrender to our right to justice; we do not necessarily want to forget—some hurts teach us. It doesn’t it mean that we never have negative feelings towards our offender.
The only response to the kind of mercy shown the servant by the master is to receive it so as to be open to bring that same mercy to others. We are asked to move beyond vengeance and move towards reconciliation in humble willingness. We never fully experience one without the other; God’s mercy towards us as we go and do the same from the heart. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12).
Lord, God, heal our hearts and our world. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.