August 17, 2023
Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “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.” Matthew 18:21–22
Saint John Chrysostom, in commenting upon this passage, explains that “seventy-seven times” was a way of saying “always.” In other words, Jesus was not giving a specific number to the times we must forgive, He was saying that forgiveness must be offered forever and always, without limit. This is the depth of forgiveness offered to us.
This passage also shows the contrast between the human tendency towards forgiveness and God’s. Peter, no doubt, must have thought that he was being generous by asking if he should forgive his brother as many as seven times. Perhaps he thought Jesus would be impressed by this apparently generous suggestion. But the infinite mercy of God can never be outdone. There is simply no limit to the mercy of God, and, therefore, there must be no limit to the mercy we offer others.
What is your personal practice when it comes to seeking the forgiveness of God in your life? And what is your practice in regard to offering forgiveness to another? This line quoted above introduces the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In that parable, the servant owed his king a “huge amount.” In mercy, the king forgave the debt just as God is willing to forgive us no matter what. But forgiveness does have one price. The price is that we must also forgive others to the same extent. Thus, when the servant who was forgiven a huge amount later sees one of his servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he demands the debt be paid in full. The result is that the king hears of this and withdraws his mercy, requiring the servant to pay him back in full.
This tells us that forgiveness is not an option unless we are perfect and owe no debt to God. Of course, if anyone thinks that, then they are not living in reality. As we read in the letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a result, it is essential that we offer forgiveness always and everywhere, without condition, without limit and without hesitation. How easily do you do this? How fully do you forgive?
One of the hardest persons to forgive is the one who has no sorrow for their sin. When this happens, it is easy to justify our condemnation of them. One thing that might be helpful to reflect upon if you are currently withholding forgiveness from another and remain angry, bitter or hurt, is that your lack of forgiveness does more damage to your own soul than to theirs. By refusing to forgive, you do immeasurable damage to your soul and to your relationship with God. Remaining angry and hurt only leads to more anger and hurt. It leads to vengeful thinking and even acting. And that is a sin for which you will be held accountable.
Reflect, today, upon the infinite depth of mercy and forgiveness you are called to offer to each and every person who has or will hurt you. To forgive is certainly not to excuse. On the contrary, the act of forgiveness acknowledges the sin. But mercy must be offered no matter what. Always, everywhere, unending and without any conditions, it must be offered. If this is difficult to do, do it anyway and do not stop. Doing so will not only help the sinner, it will also open the gates of mercy from God in your life.
My forgiving Lord, Your mercy is infinite and unfathomable. You desire to forgive every sin in my life and to restore me completely to a life of perfect union with You. I accept this gift of forgiveness in my life, dear Lord, and I freely choose to offer this same depth of mercy to everyone who ever has or ever will sin against me. I forgive as completely as I can. Please help me to imitate Your unending mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.