When all is understood, all is forgiven

Home > Living the Gospel > When all is understood, all is forgiven
We all know people who carry grudges. As our first reading describes them, they “hug anger and wrath tight.” I’d guess that every family has a few of these characters. Sometimes the grudges are over little things – someone said something they didn’t like, or didn’t reciprocate a gift, and they never got over it. Today’s readings talk at length about these faults, which can only too easily lead to sin.

Some of us are like Peter, who tried to bring fairness into the question: “and just how many times do I have to forgive?” Peter’s simplistic view of Jesus’ teaching was countered by Jesus’ example that drove Peter’s purely legalistic perspective into a higher realm of love and compassion. It’s not about counting how many times we forgive; it’s about truly seeing the larger picture through the eyes of Jesus.

Sometimes, though, things don’t seem so simple. Deep feelings get in the way, and forgiveness can become a terrible struggle. For example, this weekend we recall the events of 9/11 with prayer and ceremonies. We all have our personal memories of that tragic day. During the years since then, we’ve also seen the fear and anger of many people move from that first instinctive reaction of horror towards a nearly irrational belief in which an entire culture, despite its diversity of religions, has been unjustly demonized. Whether we are conscious of it or not, Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all children of Abraham: our sisters and brothers, despite our differences. Where is forgiveness in this mess that ideology – idolatry, in a sense – not faith, not religion – has created?

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Families who lose their children to violence, the Amish families who forgave the man who killed their children and those among us who have experienced tragedies can tell you that renouncing retaliation is hard, and forgiveness is hard work. But it is the mark of the Christian, attested to by many saints and martyrs from ancient times to this century. Think of Jesus. We are in good company. On a personal level, looking back at the gospel, what “debts” do we owe? What “debts” do we forgive? What offenses do we have the courage to endure? What threats can we live with, despite the tensions they cause? Do we have the maturity and strength to forgive even those who do not repent? We will need to let go of our pride, our sense of righteousness and entitlement, and know ourselves as we really are: Children of God, Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. As the advertisement says, “We can do it.”

We all can begin with the easy things. There’s a saying, “when all is understood, all is forgiven.” I firmly believe that God helps us along the way. We know the liberation we feel when we know that we’re forgiven for the wrongs we’ve done. Dag Hammarskjöld made a comment one Easter Sunday that I like. He said, “There is a price you must pay for your own liberation. Since it is through another’s sacrifice, you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, in spite of the consequences to yourself.”

If we have been forgiven – and we know that we have been – as our first reading states, “can anyone refuse mercy to another like himself…?” Think about it this week. We already know the answer that Jesus would give.

Dot Hathway, CSJA