Limitless Forgiveness

Written by Sr. Rosemary, O.P.
Readings from:

The story is told of a Sunday school teacher who had just finished her lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point to her young students. She said, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said: "Sin." 

Our gospel today is about forgiveness.  For once, Peter the actually asks a sensible question:  “How often must I forgive a brother who wrongs me?”  Then he gives what he imagines to be a very generous answer to his own question…7 times.  Jewish law only required that a person forgive someone 3 times.  Jesus corrects Peter and answers:  77…figuratively, a limitless number. 

Forgiveness is difficult.  Thoughtless words and deeds can hurt for a lifetime.  Individuals, families, and nations hurt each other.  History books, war cemeteries and monuments remind us of a past that lacked peaceful and reconciled relationships.  Jesus tells us today that the only way to make up for the past is to forgive.  There is no other way and we can’t forget that this forgiveness takes time, recognition of the offense, and perhaps grieving some losses.  Forgiveness is a process.

And once again, Jesus models that for us.  On Calvary, he forgives those who cruelly nailed him to the cross.  After the resurrection, he appears to his apostles and offers forgiveness by saying to them: “Peace”.  In that moment, he gave all of us the power to forgive.

But what if you feel there are times when you can’t forgive?  It might be well to remember that forgiveness is a choice; you can will forgiveness even when the hurt remains.  Resentment and bitterness can only continue to harm relationships.  Pray and ask God to help you find the strength to do what you cannot do on your own.

A wonderful way to think about God’s incredible and generous mercy to us, and the compassion God always initiates, is to make a daily, personal act of contrition. We can say the one we memorized as kids, or make one up ourselves.  Either way, our sincerity in saying it can help us appreciate God’s forgiveness to us, and help us when we find ourselves needing forgiveness, or when we need to forgive someone in our life.

"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.”