Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
This opening verse from today’s gospel challenges Christians to never tire of forgiving. Jesus then tells the parable of the king who forgave a large debt to his servant, who, in turn, would not forgive a smaller debt to another servant. When the king learned of this intransigence, he did not forgive his unmerciful servant, but “handed him over to the torturers.” This last point is worth considering. Christian forgiveness does not mean forgiving everybody all the time. There must be prerequisites for forgiveness, because, otherwise, a sort of universal forgiveness towards all would be no different from indulgence towards evil.
Saint John Paul II put it this way in his encyclical on mercy, Dives in misericordia: “in no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.” To this list many people, such as Cardinal Dulles, add two further conditions, viz., that the offending party be sorry for wrongdoing and also have the desire not to offend again.
The fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer reinforces our need to be forgiven (repeatedly) and to forgive (repeatedly): “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We do not ask God to indulge but to forgive. Let us do the same to our neighbor.