Wednesday 17 November 2021

‘Forgive and you will be forgiven’

‘Be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.’ (Luke 6:36f) This is no parable. Our Lord is very clear here. ‘Forgive and you will be forgiven.’ We must often have reflected that the only petition in the Our Father with a condition attached is the one relating to forgiveness. It is also the only one on which Christ offers any comment later, when he says: ‘For if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.’ It is quite a sobering thought, since we find forgiving some injuries, even quite small ones, difficult. We hug them to ourselves and the resentment and anger, instead of abating, can grow, fester and turn to bitterness. True, the white heat of our initial rage may subside in to a red hot anger, but then it can morph into an ice-cold hatred, which can masquerade as indifference. That is rather an extreme case. Quite often, we do ‘get over it’, though the issue has not been addressed and the anger doesn’t quite go away.

Perhaps the fear of not being forgiven our own sins is not enough. Luke can help us here. ‘Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you.’ Here the same teaching is presented to us in a more positive form, as the benefits of forgiveness are outlined. We are being told to be generous, and generosity is the very key-word of our religion. Generosity with God and with others and…with ourselves. There are occasions when we need to forgive ourselves. So many of us don’t and continue to beat ourselves up for our ‘past sins and transgressions’ which can ‘cause us to falter’ on our way to God. Instead, we need to keep going, acting without fear, by which I mean, without a craven fear, since we should have a healthy filial Fear of the Lord — which is, after all, one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit! St Philip would pray : ‘Give me the grace dear Lord, to serve you not out of fear, but from love.’ Otherwise we are merely slaves, doing what is required, ticking boxes, hoping to get the job done without receiving a beating.

God’s mercy is inexhaustible, but it is sometimes the case that we erect barriers which prevent us from being able to receive it. And our being unforgiving is chief among these. If we say we cannot forgive such-and-such a person, God can deal with that. There is here a suggestion of a willingness to forgive, but for the present we are not yet ready to do so. The wound still smarts too much. So we pray about it, asking of the Lord the grace to reach the moment when we can offer forgiveness and genuinely so. On those occasions when the hurt is too great and the offence has been deliberate and its effects devastating, we need longer. We may have to take many steps back in order run forward. We may have to want to want to forgive. Or even to want to want to want to do so. But if we say we will not forgive and wilfully persist in our unforgivingness, do we not exclude ourselves from heaven, which is God’s space? ‘Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.’ Think of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son and you have there the image of God which Jesus wants us to know and to love, with whom ‘there is mercy and plentiful redemption.’ Furthermore, he tells us that we are to love this God and our neighbour with all our strength. Forgiving someone who has injured us or those we love may indeed require all the strength of mind, heart and soul we can muster, but try we must, knowing that our eternal salvation may well depend on it.

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