A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
Good News Reflection:
If people weren’t so frustrating, Peter wouldn’t have asked the question that he raised in today’s Gospel, and we would have no need to forgive others over and over and over again. Once should be enough, don’t you think? After being hurt and then generously choosing to forgive anyway, we should be rewarded with the pleasure of seeing our enemy become nice to us, right?
The problem is that people don’t change as quickly as we want them to, and some people don’t change at all, at least not that we can see. For us to be like Jesus and forgive them seventy times seven times, we have to make the conscious decision to respect and love people the way they are right now, even while disapproving of and disliking what they do. If they never improve, can we love them anyway? What if their lack of improvement causes us more problems?
Forgiveness is not based on what others do, but on what we need. Forgiveness releases us from the hold that their sins have on us. It’s a decision to protect our joy and not allow others to control our feelings. And for this to happen, our forgiveness must be sincere. We can say with our lips that we’ve forgiven others, but if our happiness depends on others changing, we remain frustrated and angry. On-going anger is a sign that our forgiveness is only lip-deep.
Joy through forgiveness is dependent upon God, not on what others do or don’t do. We choose to forgive based on the love that God has for sinners, not on whether they deserve it. And then because we’ve given them mercy, we receive God’s mercy and we’re released from the emotional chains that have bound us to the damaging effects of their sins.
If we don’t forgive, we’re like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable. He begged for and received forgiveness, but then he treated others the way he himself did not want to be treated. If we have on-going feelings of frustration, this is evidence that our love for others — our kindness, our patience, our mercy — is conditional, based upon how nicely they treat us. God’s not there.
To protect ourselves from the return of frustration, we have to examine why we feel hurt: Our needs are not being met. As long as we keep wanting others to meet those needs, we feel hurt over and over again. However, nobody except God can meet all of our needs. Unless we look to God for our joy, our frustrations are in danger of controlling us until the day we die!
Keep your eyes on Jesus. Others cannot or will not give you everything you need. Jesus is the only one who can love you completely. Although it takes a lifetime to open ourselves fully to his love, whenever someone lets us down, we should see it as a gift, a new opportunity to let Jesus hold us and take care of us. When we let Jesus meet our needs, it’s much, much easier to forgive others — again.
Beloved Father: Give me the grace of desiring to forgive others despite my feelings. Help me, Lord, to remember always that You have been merciful to me before. Amen
© 2017 by Terry A. Modica