Matthew shares with us a familiar parable today. We have all heard it many times, and it’s an easy tale for us to relate to and understand. It’s familiar because, we too, tend to resist forgiveness.

Forgiveness, especially if you struggle with this, must be better understood if it has a chance of becoming a part of our relationships. We know it is asked of us; we know it is a good thing to do, but the truth is that we don’t often stop to think about what we are doing when we forgive. We may not understand the implications of forgiveness, because we have not really understood what scripture says about forgiveness, and more importantly, we haven’t truly experienced the forgiveness of God in our own lives.

To begin to understand, we could first look at what it is not. Forgiving someone does not justify their actions. If we have been harmed in the past and need to forgive someone, we don’t have to find an excuse for their bad behavior, attitude or sinful nature.

Forgiveness is not counting on the passage of time to make things magically better. Forgiveness is not denying that we’ve been hurt. Some of the things may get better as time passes, but some may not. You will find that even though you have forgiven, there will be things such as names of people, places or events that can bring the bad memories to life and renew your pain and anger.

Forgiveness is not demanding an apology and making someone earn it. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge or getting even, then causing the other an equal share of suffering.

So what is forgiveness? First, forgiveness is something God wants for us. Our relationship with God influences (I hope!) how we relate to others. When we come together, there is always a possibility of conflict; if there is conflict, we should seek to resolve it.

But what about the things that seem overwhelmingly impossible to forgive? Here, it is helpful to remember that we are called to love and forgive people for who they are, not for what they do. Similarly, God doesn’t command that we love all people because they are good, but because they are His created Beloved.

Perhaps most importantly, we forgive because God has forgiven us. That is what this parable is all about. We would never have been able to earn God’s forgiveness. Once we believe that and truly appreciate God’s grace in forgiving our sin, we can only live with a more forgiving spirit. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that when God forgives us, he forgives completely and unconditionally. When we take this to heart, we can accept that we are forgiven people, and forgiven people can forgive others.

Forgiveness must be intentional – it is a choice for us to make. We can’t wait for it to appear in response to our emotions. If you wait until you feel forgiving toward someone, you might never forgive that person. God does not wait until we’ve given him cause. He forgives us while we are still sinners.

A few years ago, I had the honor of hearing writer and Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Ilibagiza, speak about her own journey to forgiveness. She shares her story in her book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. For three months, she and seven other women huddled in fear and silence in a cramped bathroom of a local pastor, while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God. She emerged having discovered the meaning of truly unconditional love. With the help of God’s grace, she was able to seek out and forgive her family’s murderers. Her forgiveness in no way condones the horror they perpetrated, and they certainly never expressed remorse or repentance for their actions. Her decision to forgive was made for love. She first surrendered to her need for God, for her love for Him, but even more significantly, His love for her. Because of this, she could see that His love and forgiveness extends to each of His children, even including her predators.

Where might the power of God’s grace bring forgiveness into your own life? What or who might you yet need to forgive? Is there anything for which you don’t fully believe you have been forgiven? Seek Him for help with these questions. If you haven’t visited the Sacrament of Reconciliation recently, I would encourage you to consider doing so and to allow God to reveal to you the depth of His mercy. Soon we’ll have the gift of our Adoration Chapel, where we may go to open ourselves to the powerful love of Christ, made fully present in the Eucharist. We forgive, because we are forgiven. I pray that each one us will come to understand fully the reality of God’s Mercy already at work in us.

Lisa Amos

Pastoral Associate

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