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Reflection for March 13, 2007

"To Forgive is Divine"

Today's Mass Readings

The Gospel reading for today is perfect for the season of Lent. In many ways it can be seen as a commentary on the line from the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus if we should forgive someone even if they have sinned against us seven times. Seven was seen in antiquity as the number of perfection, and is an important number throughout the Bible. Jesus responds, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Now, Jesus is not saying that if someone sins against us 77 times we should forgive them, but once they’ve sinned against us for the 78th time, we no longer need to forgive them. Rather, he is multiplying Peter’s example. This passage is reminiscent of Genesis 4:24 where Lamech said that, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Lamech was multiplying Cain’s wickedness in his own life. As the seventh generation from Adam through Cain’s line, Lamech was epitomizing what it meant to be wicked.

In a similar, but in the exact opposite direction, Jesus is explaining that we need to epitomize what it means to forgive in our lives. We need to forgive as our Heavenly Father forgives. In the example Jesus provides, the king, representing God, forgives a servant who owes him money. The servant is expected to forgive as he had been forgiven. Instead, he treats harshly someone who owes him money. The king then has the servant punished for his lack of showing mercy. Jesus says, the same will be for us, if we do not forgive others as we have been forgiven. In fact, when we pray the Our Father, we are asking God, begging God, to forgive us as we forgive others. We are asking God to treat us as we treat others. That means that if we show mercy to others and readily forgive them, then we are asking God to be merciful to us and forgive us readily. However, if we are unforgiving to others, hold grudges against them, and refuse to forgive them when they sin against us, then we are asking God not to forgive us when we sin. We are asking God to hold a grudge against us and punish us harshly when we fall short of God’s standard through sin.

Let us use this Lenten season to practice the forgiveness we have experienced through God’s mercy. We should especially make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help us experience God’s love and forgiveness, but then we must go out into the world and forgive those who sin against us. This is especially important, although especially difficult, in our own families. Remember, Peter asked about forgiving his brother. So let us bring Jesus’ forgiveness into our families, forgiving those members who sin against us. This is the responsibility we take upon ourselves every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a liberating responsibility. Let us begin truly to live out this lesson this Lent.