If we come to Mass on the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time looking to hear Scripture readings that will allow us to feel comfortable with our current life — no need for conversion — this is the wrong weekend for that. If you come to read this column to simply be consoled in living the status quo, you will be disappointed.
We are reminded of one of the most important teachings that Jesus gave, which was also a part of His inheritance from His Jewish culture and family. Forgiveness was an important discipline in the Jewish tradition. The practice of Jubilee, where every 10 years property was returned to its owner, was one of those institutionalized practices of forgiveness. But throughout the Old Testament are teachings of allowing others to be forgiven so that life can be healed and move on. Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of that practice, through the way He treats everyone He encounters, whether friends or enemies.
One of the subtleties that often keeps a person from forgiving is the question of trust. We have all been hurt by someone, often by people we have trusted deeply. Sometimes people use our trust to take advantage of or even abuse us. The call to forgive another does not mean we need to trust that person again. It simply means that we choose to not hold onto that grudge anymore and to release that person from the hold of lack of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an invitation back into an abusive relationship. Forgiveness is an invitation to move on with life, learning lessons all the way.
Take the invitation from the Scriptures and do some conscious remembering. Have we refused to forgive someone who has hurt us? There is a famous saying about that: Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and thinking it will hurt the other person. Our lack of forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person like we sometimes wish it would. It simply paralyzes us in a past moment. It keeps us from moving on.
If we need courage to forgive another, we can imagine ourselves at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion. Imagine that Jesus has just been beaten, ridiculed in public, made to walk in shame in front of the very people who love Him and nailed to the cross. Remember the words that He spoke at that moment. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Obviously, He wasn’t saying that they didn’t know that nailing Him to a cross would kill Him. What He was acknowledging was the fact that at our best and holiest way of life, we would never choose to hurt another human being. He was recognizing the innate goodness of every human being, no matter what evil or hatred they’re involved in. It doesn’t excuse them from the behavior, because every choice has consequences, but it does allow the person who is harmed to not carry that burden of hurt.
Would we like to be free to move on with life, not carrying the burdens of the past? Would we like to not spend time mulling over hurts and pains again and again? Has the other person against whom we have withheld forgiveness moved on, not even acknowledging our presence anymore? It is time, then, for us to be free. Take the wisdom of Jesus and live it out in its fullest. Don’t count the many times that you were asked to forgive — just forgive. The more each of us chooses to do that, the more healed our world and family becomes, and the freer we are to live out the Gospel. We, as individuals and as a Church and community, look hypocritical when we relive past hurts instead of living in this present moment and working for healing and forgiveness. Do we want to stay stuck in brokenness, or would we like to truly be free?
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.