HAVE YOU EVER been hurt by someone, hurt to the very core of your heart? I imagine so. This happens to most of us and it leaves a wound that may heal, but certainly leaves a scar.
The bitterness fades but the memory of that sorrowful moment remains, leaving a painful echo that keeps ringing all too often, sometimes even years later.
Some people – with only good will in mind – will tell you to forget all about it and move on. Even if you try, and for all intents and purposes succeed, it still echoes. We are human beings and are vulnerable to such sadness of the heart. What can make it all even more difficult is when the person who hurt you doesn’t really care that they did it. Then you are called upon to forgive someone who doesn’t seem to want or need your forgiveness.
Plenty of others, also motivated by concern for you, will tell you to just cut them off forever and not let yourself be hurt anymore. And at the moment, that may seem like good advice. Forgiving someone who doesn’t care about your forgiveness seems to be a waste of time, so why go through the motions at all?
How Many Times?
So, it seems like Peter has a good point in his question today to Jesus. In effect, he’s saying: “OK. Turn the other cheek. But how many times do you have to do that before it gets a bit too ridiculous?”
After all, you can be really hurt by someone’s “wrath and anger,” and as the author of the Book of Sirach tells us today: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Jesus replies to Peter that we must forgive not only seven times, but 70 times seven times. In other words, we have to forgive always, forever, again and again, throughout all of our lives. This doesn’t mean just counting to 10 and hiding your pain in order to be some sort of good sport.
It means forgiving “from your heart,” even if it is a broken heart. It means, as St. Paul is telling the Christians in Rome today in our second reading, “…we live for the Lord (and) … we die for the Lord.” It means that we must be prepared to forgive just as Jesus did from the Cross and from the soon-empty tomb on the third day.
Can we do that? Is it possible at all? Is anyone that good? As forgiving and loving as Jesus Himself? Is that what my mind tells me to do? What my heart tells me to do?
Doing Unto Others
It is – at any rate – what the Lord is telling us to do, even if we’re up against someone like the wicked servant in the parable today, who accepts forgiveness and then lowers the boom on someone else as soon as he leaves the room. God will forgive us if we are truly repentant for our sins, but if we are full of “wrath and anger” toward one another, we can’t logically expect God to forgive us. We have to be Christians not only with our lips, but also with our hearts – and as painful as it can be – in our actions.
We have to keep in mind that Last Judgment when we will be sent to heaven only if we have done good to others. God doesn’t promise that doing good to others will be the easy thing to do; He is just saying that it will be the right thing to do. As Sirach also says today: “Remember your last days, set enmity aside, remember death and decay and cease from sin. Think of the Commandments, hate not your neighbor, remember the Most High’s covenant and overlook faults.”
When Jesus looked down from the Cross and said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” there is no reason to think that it was easy for even Him to say that. However, He said it and He meant it.
Blind to Bad Decisions
He knows His enemies had just “hugged their sins (so) tight” that they became blind to the terrible decisions that they had made. They were hateful men, but He forgave them anyway. Peter was in no way ever a hateful man, but he was a human being and so he wondered – out loud – how long you had to set yourself up like a target so that others could keep throwing darts at you.
We are not like the enemies of Christ, but we are like His Apostles, vulnerable to the enmity of others and frankly unwilling to put up with their coldness forever. We are not called upon to be the person next door who listens to his or her own hurt feelings and follows where they lead, but rather like the Apostles, filled with questions, listening to Jesus and following where He leads.
The road to heaven is not a straight road sometimes, and it doesn’t always make sense in terms of human-nature. Still it leads to heaven. The Lord Who died on the Cross for us will reward us on some beautiful tomorrow if we carry our cross for others, no matter how hard it may have seemed to be for awhile today to do so.
Readings for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 27: 30 – 28: 7
Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Romans 14: 7-9
Matthew 18: 21-35
Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.