What is forgiveness exactly? Maybe if we really knew what it meant, we’d be more willing to show it. Father Mike Schmitz teaches us that forgiveness is rooted in justice. It doesn’t forget or ignore the injustice done, but it frees us from the need to get revenge. When Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, he was laying out a path to freedom. When you forgive, the one who hurt you is released from their debt to you, and you are released from the pain so you can move on. At the heart of forgiveness is freedom.
Forgiveness of another is difficult. It’s much easier to remain angry. This line quoted above is the introduction to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In that parable, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to receive forgiveness from God, then we must forgive others. If we withhold forgiveness, we can be certain that God will withhold it from us.
Peter may have thought that he was being quite generous in his question to Jesus. Clearly Peter had been considering Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and was ready to take the next step of offering that forgiveness freely. But Jesus’ answer to Peter makes it clear that Peter’s concept of forgiveness greatly paled in comparison to the forgiveness demanded by our Lord.
The parable that Jesus then tells presents us with a man who was forgiven a huge debt. Subsequently, when that man encountered a person who owed him a small debt, he failed to offer the same forgiveness that was given to him. As a result, the master of that man who was forgiven the huge debt becomes outraged and requires once again a full payment of the debt. And then Jesus ends the parable with a shocking statement. He says, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Note that the forgiveness God expects us to offer others is one that comes from the heart. And note that a lack of forgiveness on our part will result in us being handed “over to the torturers.” These are serious words. By “torturers,” we should understand that the sin of not forgiving another brings with it much interior pain. When we hold on to anger, this act “tortures” us in a certain way. Sin always has this effect upon us, and it is for our good. It’s a way in which God constantly challenges us to change. Thus, the only way to freedom from this interior form of torture by our sin is to overcome that sin, and in this case, to overcome the sin of withholding forgiveness.
My forgiving Lord, I thank You for the unfathomable depths of Your mercy. I thank You for Your willingness to forgive me over and over again. Please give me a heart worthy of that forgiveness by helping me to forgive all people to the same extent that You have forgiven me. I forgive all who have sinned against me, dear Lord. Help me to continue to do so from the depths of my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Reflect, today, upon the calling God has given to you to forgive to the fullest extent. If you still sense anger in your heart toward another, keep working at it. Forgive over and over. Pray for that person. Refrain from judging them or condemning them. Forgive, forgive, forgive, and God’s abundant mercy will also be given to you.