The limits of forgiveness
Today Peter comes to our Lord enquiring about the limits of forgiveness. And he puts into words this very human approach to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a costly business. When we are the victim of someone else’s wrongdoing, when we have been hurt and paid a price for another’s transgression, then it is very hard to forgive. It seems like justice to say that there should be a limit to forgiveness. We should only have to go so far to forgive someone; after all it is not our fault that they sinned against us.
One thing we need to be clear about is that forgiveness is not about stopping our feelings of hurt, nor is it forgetting what has happened. We can’t of course just stop feeling hurt, nor can we just forget! What forgiveness is to do with is our heart. Our Lord’s words at the end of the gospel (Mt 18:21-end) exhort us to forgive from the heart. It is within the heart that everything is bound or loosed (see CCC 2843). It is the heart that hands itself over to the Holy Spirit that will turn hurt into compassion, and memory into intercession. Then the heart of a forgiving man shares in the victory of the cross of Christ: “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”
The parable in our gospel reading today should shock us. The enormous debt of 10,000 talents would have been millions of denarii. The unmerciful servant obtained forgiveness for his own debt but was merciless with a servant who owed him a far smaller debt. The point our Lord is making should not be lost on us. He has forgiven us much, and our Lord has done so freely and completely, requiring us only to be repentant, but in fact there is another aspect. If we freely benefit and partake in the infinite mercy of God, then that divine mercy needs to start flowing from us. We should not forget the covenant of mercy we enter into whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
It is of course a great work we are called to. The world would counsel us to either “forget about it” or that “vengeance is sweet”. But the Lord’s way is divine mercy that has no limit (that’s the meaning of 70 times 7).
It might seem strange at times that the church encourages us to confess our sins so frequently, and to confess things that most other people would simply just forget about, but with a greater sense of our sinfulness and sorrow for our own sin comes a greater sense of the mercy of God. With that greater sense of His compassion for us, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to forgive with a mercy that has no limits.