24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     I don’t know about you, but today’s Gospel poses a challenge for me. Jesus’ call to forgive is clear, but those of us who have been seriously hurt by someone know how hard it is to actually forgive them. Yet the more I think about it, the more I begin to realize true forgiveness is hard work and shouldn’t necessarily be easy. After all forgiveness is a choice to enter into pain and sin and address the dysfunction rather than pretend it doesn’t really exist.

     Sadly, today forgiveness is often equated to a feeling. It is often wrongly reduced to simply an emotion or a way to cope with being hurt. In attempting to cope with a transgression, forgiveness is reduced to simply agreeing to forget and move on, but this is not forgiveness. Not only is this dishonest, but it is also unhealthy because it only serves to suppress the pain which will undoubtedly come roaring back later.

     True forgiveness demands that we first accept that a transgression has occurred. It then requires us to admit our own pain and suffering before calling us to an honest recognition that the person who has hurt us is indebted to us. While justice demands that those who offend us give us what they owe us, it belongs to the state to administer justice. We as Christians are called not to justice but to forgiveness which demands we make the choice to release our transgressors from their debts. Forgiveness then is the free choice to release the transgressor from the debt they owe, it is the choice to set the other person free.

     Forgiveness has nothing to do with our own feelings, but rather is rooted in the choice to love the one who has hurt us, by seeking only the best for them. Since forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling, it is often the case, that we can release a person from the debt they owe us and still experience the sting of what they took from us. Forgiveness is not the choice to make ourselves feel better, it is the choice to release another from their debt. In releasing, another from their debt we do not necessarily put the transgression behind us or pretend that it didn’t happen. No, we enter into the transgression and do the hard work of healing. Now healing doesn’t me we return everything to how it was before the transgression, often that is impossible, but rather often forgiveness demands that we release the transgressor and move forward in our healing. Unless we take the first step of forgiveness, we can never move forward with our own healing, after all, how can we expect to heal when we refuse to release the one who has hurt us from the injury.

     True forgiveness is ultimately rooted in humility. It demands that we step back from the present situation and recognize that “no one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”[1] It calls us to recognize that just as we have been hurt, we too have hurt others; that we must have our sins forgiven just as we forgive the sins of those who sinned against us. It calls us then to look to the cross and see the only Son of God, He who knew no sin, hanging there for our sins and recognize our call as Christians to follow after Christ wherever that might lead.

     My friends “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has love.”[2] God loved us so much that when we had trespassed against Him, He forgave us at the price of sending His only Son into the world to die on the cross. Jesus shows us forgiveness is not just a word we offer, but rather requires hard work. It demands that we enter into the dysfunction, pain and sin and address it. While we may be able to come up with all kinds of excuses not to forgive, the teaching of Christ is clear; if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive as others who trespass against us. “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”[3] While this is hard it is possible “by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say our prayers each night “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.”[4]

[1] Jospeh Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press,2011. Pgs. 151 – 152.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 129.

[3] CS. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Harper One, 1949. Pg  182.

[4] CS. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Harper One, 1949. Pg  182 – 183.

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