How to Forgive

September 17. 2023; Mt 18:21-35; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is no doubt that Jesus wants us to forgive those who offend us. And Jesus has this expectation in the strongest possible way. He tells Peter, in today’s gospel, that he is to forgive someone even if they offend him 77 times  Now we have to understand Jesus’ words correctly. He is not asking us to remain in dysfunctional relationships where we are constantly assaulted and demeaned. Living with abuse is not the gospel. Yet even in such relationships, once we  have distanced ourselves from those who have demeaned us, Jesus expects that we will forgive them. Is this possible? A person who grows up in an abusive family may need to spend years in therapy putting life back together again. Can that person find the strength to forgive those who were the cause of the abuse? A faithful spouse in a marriage can be devastated when the other spouse is unfaithful. Can the betrayed spouse find the strength to let the hurt go? When someone we trusted turns on us and walks away, when people push us aside for their own advantage, when others lie about us and ruin our reputation, how can we follow Jesus’ command and forgive?

Although it is difficult, Jesus shows us a way to follow his command in today’s gospel. The parable in the gospel tells us that we can find strength to forgive if we remember God’s gifts. The servant in the parable owes his master an immense amount. The Greek text tells us it is ten thousand talents which is equal to twenty years of income. It is a debt that the servant could never repay. But his master forgives him that debt and gives the servant a new lease on life. What the master does for the servant is an excessive, unmerited gift. Yet when that same servant goes out and finds another servant who owes him a small amount, he forgets the gift that he has received and demands payment in full.

We are those servants who have been given immense gifts. Jesus tells us that if remember those gifts, we can find the strength to forgive. Has someone hurt you in a fundamental way leaving you wounded and crippled? As much as that person has taken from you, has not God given you more? Has not God given you your very life, your ability to think and create, your power to love? Remember those gifts and forgive your brother. Has a close friend lied and betrayed you? As much as those actions have diminished your life, how much more have God’s blessings increased it? Has not God blessed you with beautiful children and grandchildren, with friends that do stand by you, with hope that you can start over again. Remember those gifts and forgive your sister.

As long as we focus on the hurt, we only feed the pain and diminish our strength. But when we remember how many blessings God  has bestowed on us, we can discover the power to forgive and to move on with living. Forgiving is not easy. But it is possible if we remember that however much has been taken from us, it cannot compare to the gifts we have received.

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