Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." Matthew 18: 25-35
Every now and then the liturgical calendar, history's calendar and our own collective emotional calendars are precisely in synch. This Sept. 11, 2011, is such a day.
Ten years after the atrocities of 9/11, the pain remains -- intense for those closest to the victims, a dull ache for those of us further removed. Jesus reaches out from the day's Gospel to take our pain -- if not with an instant remedy, surely with a sound road to recovery.
Forgiveness is the essence of Christian love. It is not restricted to overlooking petty faux pas or even gross insults. Forgiveness is the transcendent courage to absorb a despicable blow without being consumed by a blood-lust for revenge. Forgiveness is not a largesse we dispense by power of our innate superiority. It is the grace of God transmitted through us. It is the ultimate witness of Christ's love in the world.
But don't be confused. Forgiveness is not a get out of jail free card for perpetrators. Civil justice should be tempered, not eliminated, by Christian love. God has not issued an easy-pass for evil in the world to benefit the bad guys. We are the principle beneficiaries of our forgiveness, both in this world and the next.
We can choose to spend our lives obsessed with settling scores with terrorists, with rivals, with noisy neighbors, with line jumpers, with the wise guy in the other lane or even within our own families. Life presents us with infinite opportunities to constantly get even or to forgive "seven times seventy" (Matthew 18:22). The choice is ours. We can live in love or we can live in hate. Both are transformative forces. We become what we value and love or we can risk becoming the evil we obsess upon. From painful personal experience, love is better.
You can't fake forgiveness. It's a hard road. Our primal instincts reject it. We have to work on it. We have to pray on it. We have to commit to it, even when our instincts repeatedly keep rejecting it. It is a long painful process, not a shake-and-bake solution. It requires muscles built by the rigorous exercise of living in Christ's love. But we have no useful option. We are not being advised to forgive by our therapist. We are being commanded to forgive by our Lord and Savior. And lest there be any room for confusion, our loving, forgiving God puts it plainly, we can forget about our own forgiveness unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart. It is the essential Christian quid pro quo… our formula for forgiveness.
Faithfully yours in Christ's love,