Year of Mercy, part 4: Jesus Teaches Forgiveness

by Kathleen Glavich, SND on October 19, 2016

in Blogs

jesus_peter070811_01We have been the recipients of God’s incredible abundant mercy. Now we are to let mercy flow from us onto others. We are to be the face of God’s compassionate love for others: our family members, friends, and colleagues. Jesus taught us this. When he was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ” Mercy doesn’t judge; it loves.

Jesus also taught, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). When Jesus gave us the Our Father as a model for our prayer, he gave us something dangerous: We tell God to forgive us to the extent that we forgive others. That should be motivation enough to be a very forgiving person!

Jesus underscores his teaching on mercy with a parable. In it a master forgives a servant a great deal of money, but that same day the servant beats up and casts into prison a fellow-servant who owes him a pittance. That doesn’t make sense. The servant who experienced mercy should show mercy himself. Likewise, we ought to be merciful since almighty God has forgiven us our offenses against him.

One day Peter asked Jesus how many times we ought to forgive. He thought he was being magnanimous by suggesting seven times. But Jesus countered, “No, seventy times seven.” In other words, endlessly. Another time Jesus said, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4).

Shakespeare understood the beauty of mercy. In the “Merchant of Venice” he has Portia say these words to Shylock:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,   (that is, not forced but freely given)

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.

Mercy means forgiving those who hurt us. Jesus would have us love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.  When someone offends us, our first instinct, our gut reaction, is to retaliate. We find the Old Testament code eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth satisfying. That is why in movies we like to see the bad guys punished or killed in the end. That is also why we were amazed to learn that these people forgave:

• Saint Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin.

• Cardinal Joseph Bernardin forgave the man who falsely accused him of sexual misconduct.

• After a man shot 10 Amish schoolgirls, killing 5, and then shot himself, the Amish community visited his widow, went to his funeral, and raised money for his family.  

It’s not enough to say the words “I forgive you.” Forgiveness has to come from the heart. This means bearing no grudge, harboring no anger, and not being obsessed with the offense. As the movie “Frozen” advises, “Let it go!” Someone observed,Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” Resentment festers and destroys our peace and happiness.

There is a saying “Forgive and forget.”  We probably can’t forget, but we don’t have to bring up the hurt later (maybe over and over) or punish the perpetrator. Let bygones be bygones. After all, isn’t that how we hope others would treat us after we’ve harmed them? I’ll always remember with gratitude the neighbor whose car I crashed into. He merely said, “Accidents happen,” and later invited me to lunch.

If true forgiveness seems impossible, especially for those who don’t ask for forgiveness, we can always pray for the grace to forgive.

Can you think of other occasions when someone truly forgave?

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark October 19, 2016 at 7:45 am

Hey Sister,

“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” Ian MacLaren

Step back and think about that for a minute.

Mark

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Kathleen Glavich, SND October 19, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Mark, I remember that concept from my novitiate days, but not in those words. Thanks for the quotation.

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