“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” Sirach 27
“Jesus answered, “I say to you, (forgive) not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18
The readings of the Twenty-fourth Sunday are some of the most challenging that scripture presents to us about forgiveness, i.e. forgiving injustice and forgiving without end. Forgiving and asking forgiveness are truly powerful events.
A Spirit-filled elder of an Episcopal church told a story of his mission work in Mexico. While in a small village, a certain family drew him into their home where their father was dying. Rather than sending the man to a hospital for a medical treatment, they asked this elder for prayer for healing. The family placed all their hope in his prayers for the man to be healed.
As the elder began to pray, he had a sudden revelation of his own sinfulness. His prayer turned into one of repentance, asking for God’s mercy. (He never actually prayed for the man’s illness!) Baffled by the experience, he ended the prayer and withdrew. Little by little, the man grew stronger. In three days the man was completely healed.
Countless are the stories of brave men and women who have shown us extraordinary forgiveness. Victims of crime forgive their perpetrators, setting them free from guilt and saving their souls. A woman who was stabbed by a young African American youth survived to forgive in an usual way. After her recovery, she researched the youth’s underprivileged background, his lack of mothering as a child. While he served his 18 year prison term she assumed the role of his mother, adopting him, as it were. Once out of prison, the two have maintained a loving relationship.
Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, OS.M., kidnapped in 1985 in Beirut, Lebanon was held hostage for 564 days before his release. He tells of starvation, isolation and beatings. From the very first day, he said he forgave his captors. Otherwise, he said, “You end up with a tremendous amount of hate and anger and resentment.” He further stated: Jesus’ death was a liberating death because it liberated us from a sense of vindictiveness or retaliation.“
Just as forgiveness is powerful, so unforgiveness is tragic. A wonderful Catholic family has a daughter that has not spoken to her mother or her sister for years and she will have nothing to do with the two of them. They are completely in the dark about the cause of the rupture between them. They often asked her what they did to offend her but never received an answer. They have said they are sorry for whatever they did. Nothing has changed. How very tragic. How sad. How heart-breaking.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
May the grace of forgiveness always be ours and may the doors of our hearts always be open for the flow of this great grace.
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