SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN            
Kathy Bernard - Publisher


Then Peter came up to him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and
I forgive him? As many as seven times?'  Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven
times but seventy times seven." - Matthew 18: 22

 

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), gave us seven encouraging words on forgiveness in his famous quote: "To err is human. To forgive, divine."  

One day during a religious class,  a teacher was speaking to her class about forgiveness.  After giving an example of a woman offended by unkind remarks a neighbor made to her, the teacher asked, "Should that person forgive the neighbor?"  Some screamed, "Never", others thoughtfully said "Maybe", and some quietly mumbled "I think I would".   After restoring order, the teacher told each person to bring a clear plastic sack of potatoes to school the following morning.  The next day the students arrived, each carrying a sack.   The class was told,  "For every person that you refused to forgive, choose a potato and write that person's name along with the date on it, then put it in your plastic bag."

Some bags became heavy with remembered offenses.  Students were told to carry the bags everywhere they went for one week, sitting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, or next to their desk at work.

At the end of the week, the teacher invited the class to share what they learned from this task. With wry grins, the ones who had shouted "never" " said the hassle of lugging the heavy load around emphasized the burden they carried spiritually by being unforgiving of others.  "That bag grew heavier as each day passed and it was constantly on our minds particularly when we could see the potatoes begin to shrivel up and die".  Others said they kept remembering times they themselves asked the Lord to forgive them, and one student quoted Matthews 6: 15-16 saying, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive, your Father will not forgive your sins."  The class burst into applause.

The weight of carrying grudges, spite, bitterness, rancor, malevolence, enmity, and hatred represented within those bags exemplify the load we carry by not giving forgiveness to others.  It is the price we pay for holding our pain and heavy negativity within our hearts without release! Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, but it is also clearly for ourselves! And so, those of us who do not forgive will be like those potatoes which, in time, will deteriorate into a nasty, odorous, and unbearable slime.   It will lurk within our hearts and tear at our peace,  stealing the joy God wants us to have.
  
                                                                                       
Father Robert Barron, the chair of the Systematic Theology department at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary has this to say about forgiveness:  "Forgiveness is at the very heart of the teaching and lifestyle of Jesus.  To forgive is actively to heal a broken relationship, to seek out the one from whom we are alienated.  How often do we do it?  As often as it is required, for there is nothing more important in the body of Christ".   He continues, " Our capacity to forgive others is tightly linked to our realization that we have been forgiven by God. When we try to justify an ethic of radical forgiveness on purely humanistic grounds, we will fail. But when we know in our bones that our sins have been eradicated through the cross of Christ, then we are able to forgive one another even seventy times seven times."  Hear this dynamic speaker via radio at this link: 
http://www.wordonfire.org/WOF-Radio/Sermons/2005/Sermon-244---24th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-Time----Seven.aspx 

In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus tells Peter, "The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to  date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn't pay, so his master ordered that he be sold along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned to pay the debt. But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

"But after the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.  He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time.  "Be patient with me, and I will pay it," he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait.  He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.  When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt."

Jesus then said, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart".

Josef Pieper in "The Concept of Sin" writes, ... "Forgiveness can be vouchsafed only to the one who wants it, or at least is willing to accept it.  If someone who were to be forgiven who does not want forgiveness, that would mean declaring him literally incapable of assuming responsibility of himself. …If we realize that perfectly consummated human guilt finally means a decision against God, and ultimately against Him alone, then it will suddenly dawn on us that man’s sin – despite his contrition and confession of guilt – can really only be extinguished by one act, by one act alone: the gift of forgiveness freely bestowed on us by God himself."  Josef Piefer (1904-1997) was a German Catholic philosopher, at the forefront of the Neo-Thomistic wave in twentieth century Catholic philosophy. Among his most notable works are The Four Cardinal Virtues, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, The Philosophical Act, and Guide to Thomas Aquinas

Bestowing forgiveness to someone is an act which mimics God's gracious and eternal gift to mankind.
  If I do not forgive those who hurt me, remorse will hang heavy on my conscience until I do.  It will encompass my life and corrode my faith unless I make things right.  I can only be liberated by giving clemency, or I will continue to feel that sense of isolation from my heavenly Father. It is an action that will conceivably change the wrongdoer into a person who will try to avoid such behavior in the future.  By offering leniency, it allows one to sometimes see and truly appreciate the real person behind the action because it is a unity of God's presence at that moment; a joining of one forgiving soul to the other. 

"But let us also always be aware that we are not God, and cannot forgive as God forgives. We do not see the other truly and completely.  There are hurts that we are not able, either individually or communally, to get around or grow past to forgive or accept forgiveness for.   And it is precisely in this humble condition of inadequacy and failure and even sin that we most truly implore the merciful God to forgive us, so that we might someday approach forgiving others as, we trust, God now already forgives them." - Anon

An offense against others shows the momentary darkness of the offender's soul.  If I am the wrongdoer through words or deeds, I must complete the act of asking for forgiveness, and by restitution if necessary, and making peace with our Lord through confession. 

The greatest example of forgiveness comes from Jesus Christ when He was nailed to the cross. Luke 23:33-34 reads, "And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified Him there; and two robbers, one on the right hand, and the other on the left."  It was from that cross Jesus said the powerful words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

He looked down through the ages and saw you, and you, and me as we sin day after day, and He gave us the legacy of forgiveness for sin by His sacrifice.   As He was dying He said, "It is finished", for He had accomplished the work God sent Him to do for us.  The heavenly manifestation of forgiveness was complete.  

Over 2,000 years later this forgiveness is still valid.  We, through faith, can repent of sin and receive with forgiveness the greatest gift of all... Eternal Life.

 

"For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into
the kingdom of His dear Son, Who purchased our freedom
and forgave our sins/"  - Colossians:1:14


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