Twenty-fourth Sunday in ordinary Time. September 17th, 2017. Matthew 18;21.35.
The Book of Sirach, from which our first reading was taken, must have been one of Jesus’ favorite books of Sacred Scripture because He often talked about the moral teachings that are included in it. The Book of Sirach was, in fact, written about 200 years before Jesus was born. And ever since that time, it has been frequently used for moral teaching and for its insights into human nature, or I should say into fallen human nature.
In today’s reading we hear the author of the book, a man named, Jesus Ben Sirach, writing, "Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail." Sirach, then goes on to argue that one who has been faulted must forgive if he is to really keep the commandments, especially the highest of all Commandments-to Love God above all and then to love your neighbor for love of God—in other words, it is impossible to truly love God unless we forgive our neighbor…period
In our Gospel today, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive the sins committed against him. Peter asks, "As many as seven times?" I don’t know about you but (in our society) seven times seems kind of high, much less seventy-seven times. We have a very vengeful society-just look at our movies. As the bad guy is getting his, by the good guy who is dealing out vengeance more than justice, how many of us haven’t egged the “good guy” on, and in our minds hoped that vengeance would be served? In our heart, we may have even cried out, “kill the creep; after all he deserves it-and make it as painfully as possible.”
But, what does Jesus tell Peter? (Pause) We must forgive seventy-seven times, which is a symbolic number meaning, we must never stop forgiving—or as it means in the original Hebrew, we must forgive always. It seems to me that if we take what Jesus tells us seriously, we truly must have a change of heart.
To forgive as Jesus instructs us—commands us—we must become more serious followers of Christ and, as St. Paul tells us, "live no longer for ourselves but for Christ." We must become so imbued, so filled with the Holy Spirit that forgiveness becomes part of our nature—which it is naturally not. Forgiveness must become a part of who we are. With this being said, how much we are desperately in need of the powerful grace of the Sacraments to live a life of forgiveness.
The truth is, all of us have been sinned against, trespassed against-we have all been victims in some way. To live in the real world is to be abused or betrayed, to be disrespected or not listened to, to be cheated and lied to, to be pushed around, to be used and insulted, sadly, sometimes even by those in our families or in our parish family.
But what do we do with the pain of abuse that is thrown at us? Do we hold the pain in our hearts and, as Sirach says, "hug wrath and anger tight?" Are we resentful to those who have hurt us? In our spare time do we think of ways to get back at those who have hurt us…vengeance—have we even carried this vengeance out in action? Do we close our hearts to them and act as if they don’t exist? Do we wait for them to come crawling back to us, groveling back to us? Or, do we have some other way to justify our un-forgiveness, and so avoid forgiveness, hang on to the resentment and "hold tight to our wrath and anger?" (Pause) Or, instead do we follow Jesus’ commandment to not hate our neighbor and instead act as Jesus does; forgiving even when the person who is to be forgiven does not, by any worldly standard, either deserve or maybe even care to be forgiven?
Because forgiveness is a divine attribute, it is not an overstatement to say, “that to forgive someone who has really hurt us is divine—an act of mercy.” So in order to forgive as Christ asks us, to forgive as Christ forgives, then how much we need the help and grace of God. It begins with the realization of how incredibly much God as forgiven each one of us (no exceptions). In light of this truth, St José Maria Escrivá, said, “Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you.”
The fact is, is that the forgiveness of our brother becomes easier to the extent that we realize how grievous our own personal sins really are, how much they offend an all good and loving God and how much they hurt our neighbor and ourselves. What act of Mercy it is for God to forgive our own sins, even the slightest. How can we then not forgive those who have trespassed against us, and so be merciful to them?
I remember someone saying that they had committed a sin equal to murder and how they had received the forgiveness of God; yet later on, this same person spoke about how they just could not forgive one of their loved ones who had wrong them. But we can protest, “but I have never murdered anyone, I have never committed a grievous sin against God.” Well first off, any sin is in a sense grievous, for any sin is an offense against an Almighty God. And, you don’t have to literally kill someone to commit murder; gossip, calumny, detraction, spreading rumors and innuendoes, slander, backbiting, etc., are all murderous. In fact, any act or omission that destroys or tears down or doesn’t support the good in another person is murderous; in fact, any way we seek to destroy the good in another is actually outright evil.
To forgive is to live in freedom as children made in the image and likeness of God. Forgiveness is freeing both to the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. But how can we truly forgive a grievous sin against us, practically speaking? First, as I said before, to forgive, especially very hurtful offenses, takes the grace and help of God. If you need to forgive someone, realize that it is to your own advantage to do so, beg Christ to give you the gift of forgiveness. Begin by seeking the grace of forgiveness for your own sins from Jesus in the Sacrament of confession. And begin by confessing your failure to forgive from the heart. And, then, keep begging until He gives you the grace to be able to really forgive from the heart.
Second, to forgive does not mean that we forget about what was done to us, or try and somehow say it was okay or it was nothing. If the act against us was wrong, it was wrong—Call a spade a spade. “What you did was wrong, and you deserve to be punished, but I forgive you any way.”
Third, we need to remember that we don’t need to “feel like it” in order to forgive. To forgive is an act of our will. In order to be able to forgive does not mean the feelings of un-forgiveness, anger or even hatred need to disappear first. To forgive is not a feeling; it is, like love, a choice. We can, with God’s grace, rise above our feelings of un-forgiveness, vengeance and anger. I choose to forgive this person, because Christ commands me to, because Christ has forgiven me for even greater offenses. And so, I chose to love this person because Christ has loved me, died for me and He loves this person as well and died for them also.
Today, let us place the hurt, anger, resentment and un-forgiveness that we have on the paten along with our Heart at this Holy Mass in order to be offered and so transformed into love by the Holy Spirit. And when we receive Christ in Holy Communion, let us all think of someone who has hurt us and for whom we may hold resentment or anger. Ask Christ, who becomes one with you during Holy Communion, to give you the grace to truly to forgive them, to let the anger and hatred go. And by the way, if you refuse to forgive someone, please don’t receive our Lord in Holy Communion; it will do you more harm than good.
Let us pray: Jesus you have told us, ‘if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ Jesus, in light of all that you have forgiven me, in light of your love and mercy for me, I choose to forgive, please help me to forgive completely from my heart. Our Lady of Divine Mercy pray for us. Amen.