“Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord?” (Sirach 28:3)
Looking at today’s first reading from the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), you would agree with me that it is already a complete homily on its own. All I would do now is to highlight the points and see how the other readings add flesh to the message.
1. Harbouring Anger Leads to Sin.
As our first reading puts it: “Anger and wrath, these are also abominations, and the sinful man will possess them.” Note that there is a difference between becoming angry (a natural human reaction) and harbouring anger and bitterness in your heart. I could be angry right now but if I don’t let that anger go, it grows into a consuming fire within my heart. No wonder St. Paul says: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Anger makes room for the devil in our heart who uses our pain as an excuse to further wreck damage in our lives. To prevent anger from leading us into sin, we must not let the sun set on our anger. In other words, by forgiving quickly and immediately. The more we delay forgiveness, the harder it becomes to let go.
2. Each Time I Forgive, I do Myself a Great favour.
Our first reading again says: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong he had done, then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” This is exactly what Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer, “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15).
The saying goes that to forgive is to let a prisoner go free only to realize that the prisoner is yourself. As Nelson Mandela once noted, if we fail to forgive, we remain locked up in the chains of our abusers. Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. Forgiveness helps us build strength from within. If you can forgive, you are stronger than those who hurt you, but if you fail to forgive, you remain captive forever.
Do you remember the story of the Prodigal son? When the elder brother returned from work, he hears music and dancing but refuses to go in. As Ronald Rolheiser puts it: “What is keeping him outside, since, after all, he is doing everything correctly? Bitterness and Anger. A bitter, unforgiving heart is just as much a blockage to entering God’s house as is any moral transgression. We can be scrupulously faithful and still find ourselves standing outside of God’s house and outside of the circle of community and celebration because of a bitter heart.”
3. To Be Bitter is To Be in Hell
If you want to know how hell feels like, then observe how sad you feel when you see a brother or sister that you have refused to forgive. When I don’t forgive, I not only make life hell for me, I also make myself a perfect candidate for hell when I die. According to St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, “The disturbance of mind to which we give way on account of the maltreatment we receive from others is more hurtful to us than the injuries offered to us … He who indulges in anger is a cause of pain to himself.”
When I refuse to forgive, I surround myself with evil spirits; these evil spirits won’t allow me eat and when I lie down, the evil spirits will not let me sleep because they are reminding me of what someone did. This is the same torment of hell fire.
4. But Should I Always Forgive?
When Peter asked about the number of times to forgive, he was expecting seven since the number seven symbolizes completion or perfect. But he was shocked that Jesus said: “No, seventy times seven.” This means there is no need to count, no need to keep a record of the offences of others. Every time you are hurt, think of your own sins and remind yourself that whatever has been done to you is little compared to your own sins against God. Do not be like the servant who having received forgiveness from his master could not extend same to his fellow servant. As much as we are drawn to retaliate, forgiveness remains the best option.
5. Who Will Cry When You Die?
In today’s second reading, St. Paul says to us: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” Will it not be a shame that upon the announcement of your death, people will begin to celebrate all because you have spent most of your life fighting them? Dear friends, remember this fact: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return.” (Job 1:21). Make your life a blessing to others, forgive and be kind even to those who hurt you. This world is not our own; we are just passing through it. Swallow your pain and forgive.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, into your hands, I surrender my pains. Free my heart to love others just as you have loved and forgiven me. Amen.. Bible Study: Sirach 27:33-28:9, Psalm 103, Romans 14:7-9 and Matthew 18:21-35.)