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Our Father, 'As we forgive those who trespass against us'

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It almost comes as an afterthought during prayer. And yet it is not. "Forgiveness is the most underrated virtue", a father tells his daughter in a moving scene in the thoughtful movie Calvary. But forgiving is going to save her life. It is immediately clear that this father is not talking about God's forgiveness, but of our own. Why is forgiving someone who has done me wrong so difficult?

At the end of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), we find that there is not only a forgiving father, but also a son, a brother, who needs to forgive. And we can feel for this loyal son. He stayed on, while the other went. He did the work, and the other partied. And slowly his heart must have grown cold towards his brother. And then suddenly his brother returns. And all is forgiven. Really? His father may have lost his marbles, but he certainly has not. And so he refuses to join the celebrations. After a little while, the father comes out to the elder son, encouraging him to forgive and rejoice at the return of his brother. And we are left with a cliffhanger. Will he, or will he not?

When we are hurt, we are tempted to hold on to what we know (the pain) and what we can control (our anger). But we have to let go. It will not be easy. And it will not happen at once. Even the early disciples were struggling with this idea. An obviously exasperated apostle Peter asked Jesus "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?" It sounds reasonable, he is your brother, so you don't throw him out immediately. But surely, after seven times, the message should be clear, right? Wrong! Jesus answered, "not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times" (Matt. 18:21-22). Jesus' answer is not about doing the sums, but points to something else: the importance of forgiving itself. Not only for this brother who has done Peter wrong, but also for Peter himself. Why?

For one thing, not forgiving not only means that I block my relation with the other, but also block my self. I will not be free if I cannot let go of feelings of hatred and hurt. It is like a ship that can not leave the harbour because an anchor has not been raised. Feelings of hatred and hurt prevent me from leaving the harbour of self-chosen pity. If I want to sail to the wind of God's love, I have to cut this faulty anchor. I have to forgive unconditionally. So that I can be free to do what He asks of us: to serve Him without fear in charity and love (Luke 1: 74-75).


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