Sunday, September 17, 2023



Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times? Jesus answered Peter, “I
say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven times”
Matthew 18:21-35

Again this Sunday, we are asked to consider forgiveness - not only for what we have done, but also for what we have failed to do - and that includes not forgiving each other! As I mentioned last week, I read that lists over 160,000 books on the topic of forgiveness. That’s 32,000 more than books on sexuality. That alone should tell us what the human heart hungers for most and why the Church considers it so important to preach about! 

Like the cartoon character Charlie Brown himself, good old Saint Peter craves affirmation. Like a needy little puppy looking for a pat on the head, Saint Peter is always on the look-out for ways to impress Jesus. No matter how hard he tries, he seems to keep missing the mark over and over again. You have to love this big klutz with a soft heart. 

The stories of Saint Peter embarrassing himself are numerous, but the one we have today is typical. Jesus had just told his disciples that they must forgive one another. When Jesus finishes speaking, imagining that another chance to impress Jesus has presented itself, good old Saint Peter springs into action. Peter knows well that the rabbis had always taught that people needed to forgive three times. Peter gets out his little mental adding machine and multiplies three by two and adds one for good measure. Then he asks his question and answers it at the same time. “How many times must we forgive? Seven times?” He obviously expected Jesus to say, “Wow, Peter, how generous you are! You are better than the best! Seven times is way beyond the call of duty!” You can almost see his big eager grin melt like wax when Jesus told him to forgive, not seven times, but seventy-times seven times. In that culture, that was a way of saying – “forgive without even counting the times!”

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to forgiveness is thinking forgiveness is for the benefit of the offending party - that forgiving requires us letting them off the hook!  To be honest, it is the other way around. Forgiveness of others is actually a gift we give ourselves. It lets us off the hook! Grudges consume vast amounts of time and energy: the incessant mental energy of rehearsing it over and over in our minds, the regular bad feelings it keeps generating for us with the constant retelling of it to anyone who will listen. We all know people who constantly bring up their festering grudges and we have to stand there and let them go through their bag of stinking “bag of grudges” one more time!  Let’s all make sure we are not one of those people who drags a stinking bag of grudges around with them and makes everybody have to hear about it.   

While we are working so hard dragging around our grudges, the offending person is probably not even aware of the punishment we are inflicting on ourselves. As the comedian Buddy Hackett put it, “Don’t carry a grudge. While you are carrying the grudge, the other guy’s out dancing.”  Again, as Mark Twain so wisely said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

“In the long run, it’s not a question of whether they deserve to be forgiven. You’re not forgiving them for their sake. You’re doing it for your own sake. For one's own health and well-being, forgiveness is simply the most energy-efficient option. You can muster that heart power to forgive them as a way of looking out for yourself. Forgiveness releases you from the punishment of a self-made prison where you are both the inmate and the jailer. Forgiveness releases you from the incredibly toxic, debilitating drain of holding a grudge. Don’t let these people live rent free in your head. If they hurt you before, why let them keep doing it year after year in your mind. Forgiving, even seventy times seven times, is a favor you do for yourself. Forgiveness is one way to keep rotting garbage from piling up in your mind and heart.

The second reason to forgive is also selfish. We forgive so that God will forgive us! The Book of Sirach, our first reading today, lays it out quite clearly. “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” Jesus put it this way, “Forgive and you will be forgiven. The measure you measure with, will be measured back to you.” Holding a grudge is a dangerous, as well as a self-defeating, thing to do to oneself!

Grudges are like cancers. They need to be stopped, cut out and removed before they kill us, emotionally and spiritually. As the first reading says, only a sinner “holds them tight” and “nourishes” them in an insane need to be right. The need to be right is expensive. You can be right without your offender needing to be convinced that you are right. Forgiving is ultimately “agreeing to disagree” and letting it go!

How many old grudges are you carrying around in your mind and heart? Who do you refuse to forgive? Isn’t today a good time to cut yourself free, emotionally and spiritually? It may be the biggest step toward self-care you’ll ever take!


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