The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
The famed psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger (Today in the Word, March 1989, p. 8) once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day!
One of the most beautiful words in any language is the word “forgive.” The word is a common one but the essence of the word is in the last part, “give”. To forGIVE means to give someone a release from the wrong that he has done to you. It means to give up any right of retaliation.
Accordingly, there are five kinds of forgiveness in the Bible. First is Judicial Forgiveness. This is the eternal forgiveness of all sins of the one who has trusted Christ, (Acts 26:18; Eph. 1:7). Second is Paternal Forgiveness. This is restoration of fellowship with God after we committed sin. The conditions are twofold: a) Confession (1John 1:9; John 13:4-10); (b) Forgiveness of others. Third is Personal Forgiveness. This is the restoration of our fellowship with others. This is so important because Jesus teaches us that we are forgiven if we are willing to forgive others, (Matt. 6:14-15). Fourth is Social forgiveness. This is restoration of our fellowship with society, (John 8:1-10). This may be a personal attitude or getting ourselves involved in programs and ministries of our parish. Fifth is Ecclesiastical Forgiveness. This is restoration of fellowship with the church (2Cor. 2:5-11). This forgiveness assumes a prior discipline by the church. The purpose of discipline is restoration; and forgiveness assumes repentance and restoration.
And for the Jews forgiving others is not only a duty to fulfil but also a part of their religious life as well. Like for example in the book of Sirach, it says: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,” (28:2). But there are limitations or they numbered their forgiveness that they ought to give to other people. An example of this is in the book of Job: “Forgive man twice, three times,” (33:29). Most of the Jewish leaders during that time proposed that it was more than enough to forgive four times.
That is why in today’s gospel, St. Peter, thinking that he exceeds the teaching of the rabbis, makes a proposal of forgiving others seven times, a perfect number for the Jews; it means completeness as in seven days for the creation of the world. He thinks that he is generous enough and deserves appreciation from Jesus. But Jesus answers him: “Not seven times but seventy seven times.” In other words, Jesus is asking His disciples to forgive others without limitation and at all times. Forgiveness is a matter of love and not of how many times.
Yes forgiveness is very hard to do especially if we are hurt due to past troubles, rejection and humiliation, suspicion and distrust. Forgiveness hurts especially when it is extended to somebody who doesn’t deserve it; has not earned it; and may misuse it. Forgiveness also costs especially when it means accepting instead of demanding repayment for the wrong done; releasing the other instead of exacting revenge; reaching out in love instead of relinquishing resentments.
But forgiveness is our deepest need and at the same time, our highest achievement. Let us set the other person free through confession of our sins and prayer. This is true forgiveness. Let us contribute to the healing forgiveness that we and the world so greatly long for.
It is far better to forgive and forget than to resent and remember, (Our Daily Bread, Thursday, December 20).