– Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent –

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times. [Matthew 18:21 – 35]

Forgiveness continues to be a recurring theme in our gospel readings this Lent. My own experience with forgiveness is that, at times, we have to forgive more than once. We may have forgiven a person, but years later, memories of events come flooding back into our minds and hearts. Anger begins to grow, the heart darkens, and we find ourselves feeling the pangs of injustice and resentment. It’s time to forgive again. It’s not a surprise, then, that Jesus tells us to forgive seventy-seven times. We are called to forgive and then to keep forgiving.

Of course, forgiveness does not mean becoming a doormat. Forgiveness does not mean that what caused the pain was okay or acceptable. Nor does forgiveness mean that we should become best friends with the one whom we’ve forgiven or that we don’t put up appropriate boundaries to ensure that we are not hurt again. So, what does it mean to forgive? It means that we no longer hold a person’s past actions against them. It means that even though their behaviour was wrong, unjust, hurtful and at times even hateful, we have let it go.

Forgiveness is essential for several reasons. Firstly, Jesus commands it, and he makes it clear that his forgiveness of our sins is contingent on our forgiveness of others. Secondly, it is impossible to reconcile any relationship without forgiveness. Someone can say sorry as many times as they like, but there is no possibility of reconciliation unless we forgive. Thirdly, forgiveness is often more critical for the life of the victim than that of the perpetrator. At times the person who hurt us has no awareness of the damage they’ve caused – even after we’ve tried to explain it. So, our refusal to forgive has no bearing on them, but it causes us to live with resentment, anger and bitterness. Finally, forgiving others means we don’t allow the hurts of the past to define our future.

“‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”

by Dcn Peter Pellicaan

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