Scripture Readings: Book of Sirach 27:30-28:7; Romans 14:7-8; Gospel According to Matthew 18:2121-35

This Sunday’s Scripture readings are focused on the topic of forgiveness. It is something we probably regularly think about and actually do, when we forgive family or community members, co-workers, neighbors, etc., so it’s worth a closer look at the matter, to see what the Bible, and especially what Jesus, teaches about forgiveness.

Everyone offends, perhaps on occasion or often, and stands in need of being forgiven. Just as we offend, apologize, and hopefully receive forgiveness from others, so we at times we are offended, and need to extend the forgiving hand to those who offend us.

Forgiving and being forgiven is not to be exercised sometimes, but always, as Jesus taught his followers. Forgive seventy times seven times, the Lord instructed, and this is a way of saying we must forgive at all times. In reality, we probably admit that forgiving or asking forgiveness can be a difficult thing to do, but the message is clear in the Book of Sirach, the first Scripture reading for this Sunday:

“Should a person nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Should a person refuse mercy to another, yet seek pardon for his own sins?”

It sounds a lot like what Jesus taught in the Our Father: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In any case, the course of action is clear: choose to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, as the occasion arises. The Sirach reading to goes on to say: “Set enmity aside, cease to sin! Hate not your neighbor and overlook faults.”

The Gospel passage this Sunday is very straightforward, when Jesus says that when we are wronged by another we are not to forgive merely seven times, but seventy times seven, and that “My heavenly father will treat you exactly the same way, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from the heart.”

Scripture is consistently clear, both in the Old and the News Testaments, with the expectation of forgiving, even considering it as a matter of life and death, of concord or strive, again with clear words from the Book of Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner holds them tight.”

Those who refuse to forgive run the risk, if the not the surety, of causing untold pain and the quick or gradual destruction of relationships. When we are open and seek to forgive, we manifest a certain ability to mend relations and encourage life, rather than stifling it by unforgiveness.

Placing the matter squarely in the context of belonging to fully to Christ, we are given wonderful words by Saint Paul in the second reading for Mass: “While we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as God’s servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lords.” If that is true, then our obligations are obvious.

By forgiving others, we grow in imitation to Christ, as he forgave those who persecuted and executed him. When we forgive, we draw closer to the Lord.

In the parable of the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus speaks about a servant who is forgiven a huge debt, but who refuses to forgive a fellow servant a tiny debt. The example is given as a lesson in how not to act. While the act of forgiving another takes but a moment, it’s too easy to refuse to take that step which will reestablish bonds that are broken. It is not any easy process, but Jesus teaches that is a necessary task for those set on the spiritual path of following the Lord. What may be difficult to do is nonetheless vitally necessary for the disciple of Christ.

To put it succinctly, just as the Lord pardons our trespasses, so must we forgive those who trespass against us. In the process, our compassion and forgiveness brings about healing and joy, for ourselves and for others.

A blessed week ahead for all!

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB