“Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the churchsins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seventimes” Matt. 18: 21-22.
Forgiveness is a conscious, intentional decision to release feelings of bitterness or retaliation towards a person or group who has harmed you, irrespective of whether they really deserve to be forgiven or not. We often hurt or offend others, be it consciously or inadvertently. Consequently, one of the most urgent needs in communities, churches, families, offices, and workplaces, is forgiveness. This is a common need, irrespective of race, creed, age, or stage in life.
Jewish rabbis taught that people should forgive those who offended them three times. It was a common subject in Jesus’ teachings and interactions. Considering this, Peter, wishing to be exceptionally generous, asked Jesus if he should forgive an offender seven times. Jesus said not seven but seventy times seven.
In the parable of the forgiving master and the unforgiving servant, Jesus tells us that God, the master, forgives because God is gracious and compassionate. God will not treat us as we deserve. The Psalmist said: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered” Psalm 130:3-4. What is required is honesty and repentance. John says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:8-9. This demonstration of grace is limitless. We forgive seventy times seven and keep going.
Unlike the recently-forgiven, unforgiving servant in the parable, who refused to walk in forgiveness, we should forgive those who hurt us not because they deserve it, but because we have been forgiven and must therefore show compassion towards others; it is also good for our spiritual, psychological, and physical health for us to forgive. I agree with Nelson Mandela that: “When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.” Forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger and a festering wound. It empowers the forgiver to acknowledge the wound and pain suffered without allowing that hurt to define him or her, enabling reconciliation and the strength to move on. The forgiven must walk in forgiveness.
Forgiving others who have hurt us is not easy, because it is much more than saying “I am sorry” or glossing over or denying the seriousness of the offence. For forgiveness to become a permanent attitude rather than an occasional act, we need the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to empower us. That’s why Alexander Pope said: ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’. You and I need the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to be forgiving persons.
As we go through this Lenten season, let us ask God to enable us to walk in forgiveness.
Thought: An unforgiving heart displeases God.
Gracious God, cleanse the depths of our hearts and eradicate all resentment, so that we can be reconciled with you and our fellow human beings, and that our lives can spread your peace.
For Christ’s sake. Amen