Forgiveness: A Life-Giving Gift

Deacon Greg Maskarinec’s Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?  As many as 7 times?  Jesus answered, “I say to you, not 7 times, but 77 times.”  Some of us might be thinking, “I’ve already forgiven my brother 75 times.  Only 2 more to go and I’ll never have to forgive him again!”

Well, I have some bad news.  Other versions of the Bible translate Jesus’ words as “70 x 7 times”.  Let’s see, 70 x 7 is 490 which means I have to forgive my brother 415 more times!  Yikes, that’s a lot of forgiving!  I have 3 brothers.  Does that mean 490 x 3 times?  Thank God he didn’t mention anything about having to forgive sisters!

But the news is even worse.   You see, when Jesus said that we must forgive our brother 77 times, what He really meant is that there must be no limit to our forgiveness.  Why?  Why must we forgive without limit?  Because being created in the image and likeness of God we are to love, to be merciful and to forgive as God does.   like the King in today’s Gospel who forgives the debt of a servant who could never pay him back, the servant is expected to treat those who are in debt to him in the same way – with forgiveness.  There is to be no limit to our forgiveness of others because there is no limit to God’s forgiveness for us.

To forgive without limit is not easy.  As a result we might ask ourselves, what’s the good news in today’s Gospel?  My sisters and brothers, the good news is that forgiveness is not simply a command that we must follow or a burden that we must take upon ourselves.  Rather, forgiveness is a life-giving action.  Forgiveness enables us to experience the fullness of life that God intend for us.

We experience this fullness of life in 2 ways.  First, forgiveness is life-giving in the sense that it will bring us the joy of eternal life with God in heaven.  Today’s Gospel ends with the unforgiving servant being thrust into the hands of the torturers and thrown into prison until he could pay back his debt.  But being in prison, he would never be able to pay back the King.  The unforgiving servant was cast out of the presence of the King forever, symbolizing hell, because he did not forgive others as the King had forgiven him.   On the other hand, if we forgive others our heavenly Father will also forgive us.  This is a consistent theme throughout Sacred Scripture.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”…”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”…”Forgive and you will be forgiven.” And if at the end of our lives we’re forgiven by God, we will be welcomed into eternal life to experience the inexhaustible mystery of God where there will be an ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace and mutual communion.  Forgiveness will bring us eternal life.

But forgiveness is not only life-giving in the future or in eternity.  Forgiveness is also life-giving in the present moment in the sense that it brings us a sense of peace and contentment in our earthly lives.  Think about someone who has offended you, someone whom you have not forgiven.  Maybe it’s over something small like your older sister who teases and makes fun of you in front of your friends.  Or maybe it’s over something more serious like the drunk driver who took the life of one of your family members.  What happens if we don’t forgive those who have offended us?  We become filled with resentment, bitterness and anger which builds up and sucks the life right out of us.  We distance ourselves and treat our offender, not with the dignity they possess as being created in the image and likeness of God, but as being unworthy of our forgiveness.  Our lack of forgiveness keeps us from living in communion with them.  The problem is that God has created us communion and our lack of forgiveness doesn’t allow us to live the life God desires.

Forgiveness is the action by which we let go of our obsession that those who have offended us indebted to us.  Forgiveness doesn’t always forget the injustice committed but moves beyond it.  Forgiveness allows us to live in peace with ourselves, knowing that those who have offended us don’t have control over our lives and our actions – we do.  Forgiveness enables us to live as God created us to live.  To live in communion with everyone, even those who have offended us.  Forgiveness transforms our earthly lives.  Forgiveness is life-giving!

Everybody needs to forgive somebody…Everybody needs to forgive somebody…There’s even a book by that title written by Allen Hurt.  If you want to read some stories of heroic forgiveness, check out the book.   There are sometimes copies in the pamphlet rack at the back of church.  Is there someone you need to forgive unconditionally, without limit?  Maybe with limit seems unrealistic to you.  Well, then how about 490 times? If that’s a bit much, how about 77 times?  Or how about starting with just 1 time?  The desire to forgive is good and necessary.  It is a great start.

But we can’t do it on our own.  We need God’s help.  We need His grace.  God’s grace is available in Sacred Scripture – in His word spoken to us.  God’s grace is available on the altar – in the sacrifice of the Mass.  God’s grace is available at the Baptismal font – where we became children of God.   God’s grace is available in the confessional – where we experience the words of today’s psalmist, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.”  In short, God’s grace is available to us in the sacramental life of the Church.  It is only through God’s grace that we will be enabled to forgive as God forgives – unconditionally and without limit.  And through our forgiveness of others we will be able to live the fullness of life that God intends for us…in this life on earth and in the next life in heaven.