Lenten Reflection on Forgiveness

 Mathew 6, 7-15

7 “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8               Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  10     Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11                Give us this day our daily bread; 12  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; 13 And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. 14                For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In our reflection yesterday, we noted several actions specified in scripture that are requirements for salvation.  It would be easy to deduce others. But that could lead to pharisaic parsing. In Luke 10, Jesus summarized the requirement for salvation in the Great Commandment:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

Jesus then went on to present the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus’ public life was a continuous practical demonstration and explanation of what it means to love.  One theme he repeated man times in different ways is the requirement to forgive those who sin against us, if we wish to be forgiven. ( See Mt: 6:14, today’s Gospel)

In Luke 6:37, Jesus tells again that we will be given what we give, also cautioning us not to judge others.

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

In Marc 11, Jesus repeats the admonition:

25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

In Mt7 Jesus warns us not that we should not even judge the morality of the actions of others.

1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us against imputing sinful motivations to our brothers and sisters:

“To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.” (C.C.C. # 2478)

But wait! In Mathew 5,  Jesus not only wants us to forgive those who have offended us but he also wants us to be proactive and reconcile with those we may have  offended or are angry with us. Jesus goes so far as to tell us not to bother going to Church (temple) until we are reconciled:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother[b] shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults[c] his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell[d] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

But what if our brother or sister continually offends us? In Mt 18, Jesus provides additional instructions for reconciling and correcting our brothers and sisters. Immediately after,  “Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

In the Hebrew Bible, the law stipulated we were to forgive only three times. Peter’s question shows that he is learning about love and mercy from our Lord. The number 7 being the perfect number, Peter assumes that would be the perfect number of times to forgive. But our Lord goes even further: 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

What are your thoughts on forgiveness?

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One thought on “Lenten Reflection on Forgiveness

  1. Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    These scriptural references and reflections on forgiveness are illuminating.
    Now that Lent has arrived, we are called to embrace acts of penance, by
    which we make reparation for our sins and those of others. Forgiveness
    extends to us and our neighbors. For Jesus Christ is ever ready to
    forgive, and His death on the cross is a testament to that. As lay
    Dominicans we are called in a special way to practice the spiritual works
    of mercy, which are:

    (1) Instruct the Ignorant
    (2) Counsel the Doubtful
    (3) Admonish Sinners
    (4) Bear Wrong Patiently
    (5) Forgive Offenses Willingly
    (6) Comfort the Afflicted
    (7) Pray for the Living and the Dead

    Notice that the fifth is to forgive offenses willingly. Sometimes that is
    hard. If someone offends us, our immediate reaction may be not to forgive,
    but rather to condemn, to blame, or insult. To cultivate that willingness
    is a matter of perfecting our inner life of virtue. That is easier said
    than done. However, the desire to forgive willingly should be in all of us.
    Some people pray that they may be forgiven, while others pray that they may forgive. Like all things in the spiritual life, it requires time and
    effort. Nevertheless, Jesus and Our Mother Mary provide us with the
    instruction, counsel, and forgiveness that we need.

    Yours in St. Dominic,

    Leo Augustine Mary

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