Have you got yourself in a spell of anger and revenge? Have you found yourself using these expressions: “I’ll surely get even with him,” “I’d be a fool if I let her get away with it,” “Forgive? Are you kidding me?” Wrath, anger, vengeance and vindictive spirit make it impossible to practice forgiveness. Lack of forgiveness is equivalent to lack of godliness in a person, because God is merciful and Mercy is His name.
St. Paul admonishes the Ephesians: “Do not let resentment lead you to sin. The sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity (Ephesians 4:26). Resentment is like the eye of ‘Hurricane Anger’ from where it unleashes its fury: vengeance, feats of rage, fiery outbursts, and so on. The words of today’s first reading are forceful: “He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord” (Sirach 28:1). For the benefit of our emotional and spiritual health Ben Sirach asks us to assume that the one who offended us is ignorant. Hence, we’ll need to forgive even when they haven’t asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness, more often than not, benefits the one who forgives than it does the person forgiven. If that sounds strange, look what lack of forgiveness can cause us: sleepless nights, depression, and sky-high blood pressure.
The Blessed Lord teaches Peter that rather than keep busy with the count of the offence—seven or seventy or seventy-seven or seventy times seven, we should rather make forgiveness so regular that it becomes a habit. If you’re able to repeat forgiveness seventy-seven times you would have acquired a habit of forgiveness, making you lose count of the offence. Conversely, if you’re able to keep count of someone’s offence for 490 times, your heart and life must be filled with evil. We learn to be like God by making forgiveness habitual.
The vindictive servant of today’s gospel who wouldn’t forgive a fellow servant for something meagre though he has been forgiven a huge debt is often the one we easily emulate. His master’s response to his cold heart teaches us that God’s forgiveness toward us can be revoked on one and only one condition, namely, that we fail to forgive others. This is a bargain we make and to which we put our signature each time we pray the Our Father: We say: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” By any sound analytical judgement, the implication is: “Do not forgive us our trespasses when we do not forgive those who trespass against us.”
That he hasn’t asked for forgiveness is no excuse. Our motivation to forgive should stem from our own awareness of the need to be forgiven the huge debt we owe God, for which He sent His Son as expiation. We often rehearse the offence others have caused us and rarely recall our offence against others. When we excuse ourselves with the idiom, “To err is human, but to forgive is divine,” we should remember also that “To err is human, but to persist in the pride of unforgiveness makes us diabolical.”