Like just about every married couple, my mum and dad had their moments. Usually it was a flare up triggered over something each had said or did without thought or intent. And just about always it was all over pretty quickly. Mum and dad seemed to have absorbed into their married life the Pauline dictum: “Do not let the sun set on your anger.” (Eph 4.26)
There was only ever one time I remember when they had such a falling out that it lasted over several days. Nothing bad – at least from a kid’s perspective – but clearly things were really frosty between them for quite some time. I remember it because it was so different; and as a kid, it felt a bit scary. In hindsight, and as an adult, I entirely understand how this is possible (and even probable), but when you are young, when relationships that you trust in go through the shudders, it can be disorienting and painful.
We are human beings. We know that the care of our relationships matter, yet we are inheritably prone to causing misunderstanding, hurt, disappointment and heartbreak in them. We simply cannot live together without upsetting one another, either unwittingly or deliberately. For this reason, forgiveness needs to be the life-blood of every relationship and in every family, including in our family of faith and our common human family.
But even forgiveness has its limits, we might all insist. There’s only so often we can bring ourselves to overcome our wounds, and accept a word of sorrow, however sincerely or weakly offered.
But this is not the way of Jesus, as Peter would discover when he asked how often he needed to forgive. Peter thought he was being considerate when he offered to forgive his antagonist seven times; it represented a generous number in those days. But Jesus challenged Peter to go well and truly beyond placing any limit on his forgiveness. ‘Seventy-seven times’ is not simply an exponentially more generous limit; it is an indication of limitlessness. Jesus was saying to Peter: forgive! No limits, no conditions, no exemptions.
Why would Jesus do this, knowing our human frailty, and our need? Because Jesus needed to remind Peter, and all of us, that we are not ‘mere’ human beings, a higher form of animal; rather, we are each living, breathing images of God, who is the divine Forgiver. We are made to be reconciled, to be in communion with one another, just as God is a Communion of three Persons. If we were to add up the value of all the words that Jesus spoke and all the good deeds he did, they are worth nothing compared to the one thing he did on the Cross. There, he forgave. That’s all; and that’s everything. Because of the Cross, and what Jesus did from it, we are the forgiven creatures of God. And because of this, Jesus says to us all: go, and do likewise. Forgive.
I’ve been known to preach at weddings to the couple before me that they are the ones who can bring an end to all wars and create world peace. It gets a giggle, but it is also true. If two people can be so reconciled to one another – so able to forgive each other in mercy and love – then it is possible for a family to be reconciled. And if a family, then a neighbourhood. If a neighbourhood, then a society. If a society, then a nation. And if a nation can be reconciled – if forgiveness can be at the heart of the human family – then so can the world.
Forgive. It is the way of God to our hearts, and our way to one another through life.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021