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(Part 172)


March 12, 2019

Today’s gospel: Matthew 6:7-15

In the gospel today, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. This is what we know to be the Lord’s Prayer, the only actual prayer Jesus is recorded to have taught. It basically has two parts­the first relates to God and who He is (our Father who is holy, whose Kingdom will come, and whose will is done) and the second is about what we need and are to ask for (feed us, forgive us, test us not, deliver us).

So we look to God and we look to ourselves. With the latter, it is about our most basic needs. But there is one part of the prayer that relates not to what we ask God to do for us, but to what we ourselves need to do. This is the part on forgiveness, where we say, “as we forgive our debtors” (v.12b).

After teaching the actual prayer, Jesus makes a commentary or exposition on just this aspect of forgiveness. Perhaps Jesus could have explained the more problematic aspects of the prayer, like the part about not subjecting us to the final test, or as the original translations had it, not leading us to temptation. Pope Francis himself would like to change the wording of this part, since God supposedly does not lead people to temptation.

But Jesus just focuses on the aspect of forgiveness. He stresses the point of the prayer. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (v.14-15). Whoa. We are not just to repent of our sins and ask God for forgiveness, but we must forgive others. Otherwise, we are not forgiven.

Now there are challenging aspects to forgiving those who trespass against us.

How many times do we forgive, as Peter asked? Seventy-seven or seven times seventy times (a whooping 490 times!). That is, without limit. In such a case, the other person would seem to be a repeat offender, one who probably is not even sorry for what wrong he has done. We are to forgive anyway.

What if the offender does not ask us for forgiveness? Forgive anyway. It is a unilateral and unconditional action.

How will justice be done? Not by us. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

What is the wisdom in such forgiveness?

First, God makes His forgiving us conditional on our forgiving others. That is God’s wisdom, unreasonable as it might seem to us, and we just need to do as God wills.

Second, it is for our benefit. We rid ourselves of the poison that comes from anger or resentment. We do not nurse something within us that ultimately affects our emotional and even physical well-being. We rid ourselves of what can rob us of our joy. We are able to move forward without being weighed down by painful occurrences in broken relationships.

Third, we prepare the way to eventual restoration of the broken relationship. We take the first step.

Fourth, we grow in Christian charity and mercy. This is especially so when the other party seems not repentant or is not asking us for forgiveness. We manifest unilateral, unconditional, self-sacrificial love. We grow in virtue. We become like Christ, who on the cross forgave those who did him wrong.

Fifth, consider the parable of the unforgiving servant. The king forgave him his huge debt, but he in turn could not forgive the much smaller debt to him of a fellow servant. We must focus not on the wrong someone has done to us, but on the wrongs we continue to do against God. Compared to our sins against a loving Father, the sins of others against us are minuscule. If God Himself can forgive us, why can we not forgive others?

A big obstacle for us at times is not really understanding forgiveness. What is the truth about forgiveness?

One, it is not an emotional act, but an act of the will. We may still feel anger or resentment (these are emotions), but we can forgive anyway.

Two, it does not necessarily mean no justice will be done. We can forgive, but this is not incompatible with justice being done. For example, if someone does us wrong and breaks the law in the process, we can forgive, but we can still press charges. It will be for the good of the offender and of society in general.

Three, it does not necessarily mean forgetting. To forgive is an act of the will, while to remember is something that just happens. It is not something we can will away. It just comes, just like a temptation over which we have no control, especially if a bad memory is triggered.

To forgive is indeed divine. Jesus taught us and showed us how.

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