The prison of unforgiveness

As we noted last Sunday, offences and crossing the path of one another remain existential issues among human beings wherever they find themselves. Be it in the civilized or uncivilized society, in the city or countryside, in the town or in the village. Be it in the royal family or in the peasant family, in the social organization or religious organization, at one time or the other, one person would certainly be offended or take offence against the other.

However, in all these, the big question remains, Is one free to uphold the principle of, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ as a rule of life and therefore, exert vengeance without bothering to forgive the wrong done to him? Or, Is one obliged to forgive and let go, and if yes, for how long must one keep forgiving before he is now free to retaliate? After all, the prophet Amos speaks of God forgiving transgression three times, but warns that God may not let go of punishment for the fourth transgression (Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6).

With this in mind, in our Gospel reading this Sunday, the Church presents us with Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness in response to Simon-Peter who thought that one would be free to exact vengeance after forgiving and letting go for up to seven times.
Using the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus teaches on the contrary that, for His followers, there is virtually no limit to letting go of offences done to us by others. In this parable, Jesus simply teaches us to emulate God in His forgiveness. The Master in that parable represents God whom we (His servants) owe a lot through our sins and unfaithfulness which we are unable to pay. But, God in His loving compassion forgives and allows us to go free, as the Master did to the Unforgiving Servant.

Jesus uses the above parable to show how our forgiveness to others is always related to God’s forgiveness of our own incomparable failures. The parable tells us that we MUST forgive those who have offended us. Why? Because we have been incomparably forgiven by God. In that parable, if the Unforgiving Servant had really understood how much His Master had forgiven him by letting him go of the ‘10,000 talents’, he would most certainly have forgiven his fellow servant who owes him ‘100 talents’, just a very little sum in comparison to the lot he owes His Master.

Obviously, there is virtually no amount of other people’s offence against us that would compare to our sins and unfaithfulness to God but still God forgives us. This experience of God’s forgiving love in our lives should not only challenge us but impel us to forgive others who injure us. And if we are not ready and willing to do this, it means that we are not really valuing and appreciating how completely God has forgiven us, just like the Unforgiving Servant of our parable fails to understand the enormity of what he was forgiven by His Master.

One of the main difficulties many have in forgiving others is because they feel that they don’t owe God much to be forgiven. ‘There is really nothing so grievous I have committed against God’, some people would erroneously assume. Hence, they feel no obligation to forgive others but to claim the right to exact vengeance. We can only learn to forgive easily once we become aware of the extent to which we have been forgiven by God. In fact, the only person who may claim revenge and not to forgive others, is the person who has practically no sin before God. And I really wonder who this person could be.

Indeed, the Psalmist says it all, ‘If God should mark our failures NO ONE would survive.’ (Ps.130:3). Not even the angels. Therefore, we cannot build a Christian family and a just society by harbouring and indulging in feelings of hatred and revenge.
The prolonged bearing of resentments in our hearts and holding onto grudges and refusing to forgive is not only like, someone drinking a poison and expecting the other person to die, but it also makes the prayers of many of us lack effect and power.

Forgiveness is a miracle of GRACE, therefore, let’s pray the Lord today to grant us the necessary GRACE which we need to forgive those whom we have refused to forgive for a long while now but rather brood over their offences against us.
Nevertheless, forgiveness does not in any way mean, consenting to evil or condoning personal or societal sin. No! Our readiness to forgive does not exclude the need for genuine repentance on the part of the person forgiven. That is why Jesus would say to the woman whom He had forgiven, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go but do not sin again.’ (Jn.8:11). So whether we forgive or we are forgiven, we are all called to repentance.

In sum, give the Lord the first place in your life in every situation and allow His gospel message and teachings to determine your daily decisions and life choices. And as St Paul enjoins us, ‘put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.’ (Col 3:12-14).

As you forgiven others today and free yourself from the PRISON of unforgiveness, you are blessed.

Fr. Dominic Udegbe

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