Forgiveness: the heart of the matter
Almost a year ago, I discovered by accident that my blood pressure was high. The doctor recommended that I monitor it over time and take corrective action; I follow his advice even up to today. Initially, I had no idea what the readings meant so I did some research. “I need to get to the heart of the matter,” I thought to myself. My findings were that I needed to reduce my salt intake, and get more sleep and exercise.
Today’s Gospel shows something similar. The disciples are with Jesus, and they also do some research. In this case, Peter asks Jesus about forgiving others. “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
This seems a generous number. One may be willing to forgive an offender twice or three times, but beyond that, one’s response may become negative. Although a person is willing to forgive, it lasts up to a point. This may be Peter’s thinking also.
Yet Jesus’ response suggests otherwise. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Why this response? What is at the heart of the matter here? Jesus is showing us that forgiveness has no cut-off point. In fact, we ought to develop a habit of forgiving others.
As social beings, our daily interactions with each other will bring disagreement, tension and conflict. It is not uncommon for someone to ‘mash yuh corn’. When this happens though, how do we respond? How do we develop a habit of forgiveness?
The First Reading warns against harbouring anger. Now, anger has its purpose. It can be compared to salt – good in small doses, but dangerous in high or sustained amounts (ask anyone suffering from high blood pressure).
Yet anger is one of our natural emotions. It manifests itself when we feel we have been wronged. Nonetheless, we must be mindful that we are masters of our emotions, not the other way around. If we allow anger to be our master, then simple conflicts can easily escalate.
Better to acknowledge the anger and grapple with what caused it. This is actually the beauty of anger. It tells us that something needs to be dealt with, we just have to face it truthfully. If in facing it we discover there is need to forgive, then we ought to work toward that end.
Sometimes it is a straightforward matter. However, in cases where we find it hard to forgive, or when we say we forgive but later question if we have really done so, then we can follow Peter’s example – spend time with Jesus, question Him and listen to what He says. That is getting to the heart of the matter.
We can ask, “Lord, please help me to work this through – to see clearly, to grapple truthfully and to forgive sincerely.” Then allow God to do just that. He is waiting to help, but we must make the request. He knows best, even when the reality of life seems to suggest otherwise.
Forgiveness can be difficult, but the good news is that forgiveness is possible, and more than that, it is worth it. Forgiveness brings healing. It allows for restoration of strained and/or broken relationships.
In some cases, relationships will not be restored to their previous state. That is fine as long as forgiveness is sincere, as this allows each party a freedom to carry on with their life.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we repeat the words: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. We seek forgiveness from the Lord; we must also forgive those who sin against us.
I am a work in progress and so are you; I have my rough edges and you do too. When we interact, there is bound to be some clash. Let us exercise mercy through forgiveness as we learn and grow with each other.
When we die we will not have to answer for what others did to us but rather what we did to others. While we live therefore, let us develop the habit of forgiveness.
Without forgiveness division occurs. This has been the fate of many communities: in the family, at the workplace; in social groups and in the church. Anyone who has not found forgiveness in his/her community is likely to leave that community. This is particularly so in the life of the church.
In our daily interactions, there will be moments when someone sins against us. Such moments present opportunities to forgive. This essential element helps to maintain – and even restore – unity within and among communities, thus allowing everyone to persevere in growing, sharing and loving each other.
For the follower of Christ, this is the heart of the matter.
The Gospel reflections for September are by four local seminarians.