Forgiveness is a wonderful gift of grace and mercy. If we asked many people if they would like to receive forgiveness most would say yes. The number would most likely be less if we were to ask them how many would be willing to forgive others. If we were asked to forgive someone seven times, that number would shrink significantly, and if we were invited to forgive someone seventy-seven times, is there any among us who would say yes, any among us willing to consider doing so?
Why is forgiveness so hard for most of us? I do say most because there are those who have an openness to being forgiving. One reason could be that we have few role models. I would imagine those that are more forgiving have not only experienced positive role models but have received forgiveness themselves.
How often do we seek forgiveness from others when we have done something wrong, inappropriate, or made a mistake? We often seek to explain first, make excuses, justify, or ignore our behavior altogether. When we resist being humble, confronting our offenses, and do not seek reconciliation, we do not experience the healing balm of forgiveness. We are then less likely to be willing to offer forgiveness and more likely to hold a grudge or to seek revenge.
Yet, even if we receive the gifts of mercy and forgiveness, as the servant did in today’s parable (Mt 18:21-35), we may still choose to be unforgiving toward others. We may resist forgiveness because we have already created patterns of distancing ourselves, making someone else as other, somehow justifying the hurt and pain we feel. We think that by holding a grudge or offering another the cold shoulder, we are giving them just what they deserve.
Unfortunately, patterns of not seeking forgiveness for ourselves, not willing to forgive others, allowing ourselves to bear grudges, to distance ourselves, or project negative feelings on others to cover up our own inadequacies, not only perpetuate a climate of isolation and divisiveness, continues to fuel a fire of mistrust, division, that when continuing unchecked metastasizes into hatred and violence. Even in a case where someone has truly wronged us in some way, we are still invited to forgive, to make an attempt to understand why someone might act in such a way, and to shift the momentum away from the perpetual cycle of hurt and to seek to bring about healing and reconciliation.
Jesus is very clear that if we are not willing to forgive we will not be forgiven. This is true because we are closing ourselves off from the healing invitation of God’s grace and mercy. When we separate ourselves from one another, we are also separating ourselves from the love of God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift of healing, and a pattern of regular confession helps us to receive the healing and forgiveness of our loving God and Father. As we develop a regular practice of examining our conscience, experiencing contrition, true sorrow for our sin, confessing our sin, and are absolved and forgiven, we will experience healing. We then will come to the realization that we need to put God first, instead of ourselves.
From this awareness, we can encounter one another with more understanding and more of a willingness to forgive. Jesus invites us to resist the temptation of building walls of separation to keep others out and instead invites us to forgive, yes even seventy-seven times. We can do so by asking Jesus to forgive through us, one person, one handshake, one hug at a time. In doing so, we will be builders of bridges of forgiveness!