Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Matt 18:21-35
I remember that funny story about a Chinese who was converted into the Catholic religion. He was taught of the Lord’s Prayer in Filipino. The catechist went on: “…patawarin mo kami sa aming mga utang at patawarin mo rin ang mga nagkakautang sa amin.” (…Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who debt against us).
Hearing the last part, the Chinese objected: “Ayaw ko…!” (I don’t want anymore!).
“Why?” the catechist asked. The Chinese answered: “Kasi, kung patawarin ko ang nagkakautang sa akin, bagsak aking negosyo!” (If I forget those who owed me, my business is bankrupt!)
Alexander Pope’s famous and immortal words reminds us too in today’s gospel: “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Everytime we forgive those who have hurt us we let divine life triumph over evil. There is no greatest test of an authentic Christianity than the willingness to forgive others.
To forgive someone who hurt us or caused seemingly irreparable damage in our lives seems to be a difficult task. Like for example, how can we forgive somebody who has raped our loved one? How can we forgive someone who keeps on backbiting us, or an unfaithful spouse or a government official who squandered government funds or former President Marcos who allegedly robbed billions of money from the government treasury?
In our gospel today, Peter asked Jesus how often must he forgive, seven times? Jesus answered: “No, not seven time but seventy times seven times…”
Jesus tells His own story about forgiveness involving an unjust steward because St. Peter asked Him. Current rabbinic teaching was that a man must forgive his brother three times only. To prove this, Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said: “He who begs forgiveness from his neighbor must not do so more than three times.” Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda added too that if a man commits an offence once, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive. A proof too in the Old Testament is from the book of the prophet Amos (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6) by which there is a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions and for four. From this proofs it was deduced that God’s forgiveness extends to three offences and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. It was not to be thought that a man could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times.
St. Peter might thought that he was so generous in stretching the number to seven. But Jesus said: “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” In other words that forgiveness must unlimited, that we should always forgiveness.
How often must we forgive, seven times? To ask this type of question is like asking, how often is it necessary for us to breath fresh air or to drink clean water, seven times? This is oversimplified, but we die and get sick when we do not breathe fresh air or drink clean water. We cannot live in a polluted environment; we cannot breath well if without fresh air. But pollution is not only because we don’t have trees anymore or we have jam-packed garbage or because of irresponsible factories but pollution is like unforgiveness. When we are angry with someone, we cannot breath well. Our hearts palpitate so fast because it is bereft of the right amount and quality of air. Our rancor and ill will suffocate us eventually.
We need to drink clean water and breathe fresh air. We cannot expect to stay healthy if we drink contaminated water and breathe polluted air. When we are filled with animosity and antipathy, it is like drinking dirty water.
Recent studies reveal that many cancer patients have been to have a deep-seated resentment. A New York physician, as stated by Norman Vincent Peal says that 70% of his patients reveal resentment in their case histories. “Grudges and ill will help people get sick. Forgiveness will do more toward getting them well than many pills,” this physician said. Many of us died of grudgititis – a long held hatred for another person.
Why we should forgive always? According to Louise Hay in her book entitled You Can Heal Your Life, said: “All diseases come from a state of unforgiveness. Whenever we are ill, we need to search our hearts to see whom it is we need to forgive…Forgiveness means giving up, letting go. It has nothing to do with condoning behavior. It’s just letting the whole thing go. We do not have to know how to forgive. All we need to do is to be willing to forgive. God will take care of the how.”
Jesus Christ answers this with a parable that if we ourselves want to receive mercy from God after we die, we must show mercy to those who offend us while we live. According to Fr. Fruto Ramirez, SJ: “Mahirap masunog sa impyerno,” (it’s difficult to be burned in hell). To be forgiven, we must forgive. We must forgive: first, we were forgiven first by God. Christ died for us. Second, because if not, we shall not be forgiven (v. 35). If we are harsh to others God also is harsh to us. Third, because we do not own anything, we belong to God. Lastly, Christ gave us an example. He forgave Mary Magdalene, the adulterous woman, the paralytic of Capernaum, the man sick with palsy, the thief hanging beside Him on the cross and many more. He even forgave His executioners.
Remember this, Christ invites us to live the trilogy of love: love for ourselves, love for others as we love ourselves and love for God as He has loved us and forgiveness is the essential element that binds this trilogy of love.