Today’s readings, and particularly our Gospel reading, really challenge my concept of mercy and forgiveness. And the reason for this is because of the sting in the tail, ‘And that is how my Heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother (and sister) from your heart’.
When I look back over my life, I can honestly say that I don’t harbour a grudge against anyone, even when I feel I’ve been wronged in the past, so it would be relatively easy for me to pat myself on the back, trick the box and say, ‘ well, that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about’. But…although I’ve had my fair share of dramas in my life, nothing truly awful has happened that has tested my notion of forgiveness.
For example, I have not had a friend, or family member murdered. I have not been subject to, nor have any of my family, violent crime. I have never been witness to heinous, or barbaric acts of savagery. And yet, still without this, every so often I still sense an air of injustice within me for past experiences in my life. So if even I struggle with these feelings, then how impossible must it be for those who have been victim to truly traumatic injustice. And is Jesus saying that for those who can’t forgive in these circumstances, they will be handed over to the torturers?
When I was involved with the hospital chaplaincy, I visited someone who had been stabbed by a total stranger whilst he was out for the evening. There was no altercation or disagreement, a stranger just came up to him and stabbed him in the stomach. It happened months before but, for whatever reason, the wound wouldn’t heal and they had to keep it open. Needless to say, he was in constant pain and had lost months of his life and who knows for how much longer. The culprit was caught and jailed and the prison contacted the victim to ask whether he would receive a letter of remorse and apology from the attacker. But he refused and told me that he just wasn’t ready to forgive yet. I have never seen someone in so much turmoil; he wanted to forgive but he couldn’t.
And therein, in my opinion, lies the key. He WANTED to forgive. Our readings, albeit rather bluntly, point to a truth. That holding onto anger and hate hurts us, not the person it’s aimed at, but us. Wanting vengeance will hurt us, it will eat us, and it will change us and our relationship with God and with those around us.
But if we seek to forgive, no matter how impossible we think it might be, then we have started treading a path, a path that will be longer for some than others, and perhaps even a path that we’ll never quite finish, but regardless, it’s the path to reconciliation. And we won’t be alone. Jesus will walk beside us, because when he said from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’, as a consequence of taking away our sins, he forgave FOR us, on our behalf.
So when we decide to take that first step, we will be opening ourselves to the healing power of Jesus, allowing him to work in our lives, and not only asking that he forgives us our trespasses, but also that he gives us the grace we need to tread the path to forgive those who trespass against us