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. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 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 his brother from his heart.” When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan. (Matthew 18:21–19:1)
Our scripture today is a strong reminder that we are born to forgive. Each of us has been given the gift of peace and forgiveness by the One who died for our sins so that we could be forgiven.
One would think that having received the promise of eternal life, we would do everything possible to merit it.
But too many don’t. They prefer not to forgive a hurt or even a slight. They prefer to dwell in anger – sometimes in silence but often visible.
We live in a contentious world. We live in a society where the differences between people are growing wider and louder. When we disagree with someone, it is becoming the common practice not only to state our opinion but to tear down or attack the person who disagrees with us. Civility and respect for one’s opponent are quickly set aside. For many, there is no desire to forgive.
I wonder how many of us live with anger on a daily basis, carrying it around with us as we go through our routines. How often does the anger within us burn in our gut, waiting to explode when someone crosses us?
The anger can come from a variety of sources. We can be angry because someone we trusted and loved turned on us or slighted us. The anger tells us never to speak to that person again. We can be angry because of an economic situation, because we feel that things are stacked up against us and the know-it-alls at work do not respect us or value our contributions. The anger within us waits for the time when they will be put in their place. We can be angry because of the polarization of our political situation. “The Democrats are crazy.” “The Republicans are out of their minds.” We follow the media with knots in our stomach waiting for the next politician to say some senseless thing.
The anger is killing us, and yet we will not let it go. In the Book of Sirach the author writes: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, but the sinner hugs them tight.” Even though it drains our energy, compromises our effectiveness, and makes us miserable, we continue to feed our anger to make it grow.
Anger is both corrosive and addictive.
As with any metal object left out day after day rusts and ultimately corrodes, so does anger to our souls. We allow anger to build within us and it ultimately will corrode and rot our soul. Worse yet, it is addictive. The more we remain angry, the easier it is to be angry at anything that displeases us. And anger grows more and more, deeper and deeper.
So, what can be done to break this destructive pattern?
We need a new perspective, and Sirach offers us one. He says, “Remember your last days, and set enmity aside.” What would happen to your anger if you were just told you have two weeks to live? Would you call up a person who hurt you or your boss at work and tell them how much you hate them? Would you run out to put a bigger political sign on your lawn? Maybe. But Sirach is betting that you would not.
Sirach is betting that when we realize that we will all die, when we recognize our own mortality, anger can slip away. When we see how few days we have left and how valuable each of those days are, Sirach is betting that we will choose peace over rage, love over hate, and forgiveness over anger. Remembering our own mortality reminds us that we too are sinners, we too have hurt others, we too have been wrong on many occasions. When we remember our mortality, it gives us room to let go of anger, to let go of pride, and discover a way to be patient and kinder with others.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, make me an instrument of your healing love and peace. Give me wisdom and courage to bring your healing love and saving truth to those in need of healing and restoration.”
We who have received much need to give much, knowing that what we give is nothing compared to what we’ve been given. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we have forgiven our debtors,” commenting afterward, that unless we forgive our brothers their sins our heavenly Father will not forgive us ours. Jesus made the same point just as emphatically at the end of the parable: “So will my heavenly Father do to you” — send you into prison until you pay back an unpayable debt — “unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” We’re supposed to forgive not just with words, but with a compassionate heart, just like God has forgiven us so many times. If we don’t grasp this lesson, we end up losing the Kingdom that awaits us. Not so much because of the sins we’ve committed but because of our failure to forgive others their sins against us. We won’t receive God’s mercy unless we first share it, not because he doesn’t want to flood us with his merciful love but because our hearts can’t receive it unless they are in turn forgiving others.