It is easy to recognize our own selves in the many dynamics that cross the mind and heart of St. Peter. The Gospel is not ashamed to tell us also of the foolishness and frailty of the Apostle to whom the Lord has entrusted His Church. Looking at St. Peter, and the loving firmness wherewith Jesus educated and corrected him, helps us to mature in our journey of faith, growing in humility and reopening ourselves to the hope of a new life. “Lord, if my brother commits a sin against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Up to seven times?” In this, Peter grasps one of the decisive elements of the life of the disciple of the Lord: forgiveness, one of the highest forms of Charity, of Mercy, of Divine Love.
Those who want to follow Jesus and grow in the likeness of Him must learn the art of forgiveness. But Peter’s gaze is still too human: he puts a measure, a limit to love; making calculations, turning every relationship into something “commercial” (give and take) — it is a sad human habit. God does not have a commercial style: His style is the gratuitousness of the gift. “I don’t tell you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Jesus’ answer is shocking: forgiveness knows no calculation or measure. Seventy times seven, in biblical language, is another way of saying always. Forgiveness is both total and radical or it is not forgiveness. In short, Peter and Jesus had two different ideas of forgiveness: Peter a human idea, Jesus divine.
In this famous parable of the merciless servant, Jesus provokes Peter, and today as we listen to the Gospel, we are invited to take a clear position and to make a qualitative leap in the understanding of Christian life.
In this parable the master forgives the unfaithful servant an exorbitant debt, impossible to repay, even with the work of a lifetime. The unfaithful servant, on the other hand, does not exercise the same forgiveness towards one of his colleagues, who had contracted a decidedly lower debt with him, which could be paid off easily.
Jesus’ account is effective: two scenes very similar to each other, mirrored, but two diametrically opposed attitudes! “It’s a parable! Jesus invented a story,” one might superficially comment. As if to say: “yes, but it doesn’t really happen like that!” Yet, if we are honest, we must recognize that far too often this is exactly what happens in our relationships.
We expect God’s forgiveness, we take it for granted, trivializing it, as if it were only a due and formal act, and then, not only do we struggle to forgive, but, sometimes, we refuse to take into account the possibility of exercising forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”: we pray this every day in the fundamental prayer of our faith.
Today the Book of Sirach exhorts us to “remember the end and stop hating”. Again, it’s about looking at things from another perspective. To learn to forgive, we cannot remain prisoners of the narrow historical, human and passionate horizon. Forgiveness is an exquisitely divine act, which has been effectively revealed to us in Jesus. Only by looking at Jesus and only by having eternal life as our horizon can we truly understand what forgiveness is and what it means to forgive.
Forgiveness is one of the highest and most radical forms of divine love, and we can only learn it if we experience it. Those who no longer know what sin is, those who do not recognize themselves as sinners before God and in need of His forgiveness, those who do not experience abundantly the liberating and transforming grace of the Sacrament of Penance will hardly learn the art of forgiveness.
The wounds that sin creates against God and our brothers and sisters have a heavy impact on our interior life and serenity. The damage produced can often no longer be repaired, but forgiveness has the ability to separate sin from the sinner, evil from those who committed it.
God’s forgiveness manifests a profound truth: the sinner does not coincide with his sin. Sin must be clearly condemned; however, the repentant sinner must be offered the possibility of a new life, the possibility of rediscovering his dignity, the way to holiness and salvation. Sadly, we often do exactly the opposite: we are no longer willing to call out sinful actions that go against God and His eternal law, but in this we deprive our brothers and sisters of their dignity and of the possibility of redemption.
It is a matter of rediscovering and recognizing our profound identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus and children of the same heavenly father: “Let us live for the Lord!” for from this fundamental truth flows the real possibility of maturing in the forgiveness received and given.
* Custody of the Holy Land
By Fr Luke Gregory ofm *