By Forgiving we Share in the Freedom of God
Jesus reveals to us a God who is intensely keen on forgiving. And so when we forgive others, we live out in our own lives how God already relates to us. By forgiving others we come to share in God’s transcendent freedom that manifests itself in unrestrained mercy and unbounded love.
The response of Jesus to Peter’s question about how many times he is expected to forgive makes it clear that there is simply no limit to this, just as there is no limit to the number of times that God forgives us. And in the parable of the master and servants Jesus gives us a vivid picture of the sheer immensity of God’s mercy, and should encourage us to show mercy to others.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas states that where the servant goes wrong is his staggering ingratitude for the mercy shown to him. And this story is designed to make clear to us just how shameless this ingratitude is: the servant has only just been forgiven by the master, so it is not as if he has had time to forget. The servant was unwilling to forgive a debt amounting to a few weeks of income, which pales against the huge debt of many years of income forgiven him; his petty-minded hardness and cruelty against his fellow servant are opposite of the immediate mercy and kindness shown to him.
Nonetheless, the servant who refuses to forgive can sadly be likened to all of us at times as we can find it very hard to forgive. People struggle to forgive once, let alone forgive a second time or a third time. Sooner or later we come to the last straw, when enough is enough. We harbor grudges. We can easily nurse old wrongs. We feel that if we forgive we will loose face and appear weak. Sometimes we might even seek revenge.
So, the parable that Jesus tells is meant to get us back on track. His words are meant to prevent us from behaving like the ungrateful servant. Fundamentally, Jesus is calling us to see the wider picture in the light of eternity; to reflect on the gratitude we should have in finding forgiveness and mercy and which should impel us to also show forgiveness and mercy to others. So, every time we realize that we have not forgiven or shown mercy to someone, we are brought face to face with a shortcoming in our faith in light of God’s mercy and love for us.
Jesus makes it clear to us that if we do not forgive our fellow human beings, we cannot really expect God to forgive us. The First Reading says it well: “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another,
and then seek pardon for his own sins?”
By not forgiving others we bind ourselves more fully to a way of living that is opposed to that of God. It is we who hand ourselves over the ‘jailors’ mentioned at the end of the parable in the Gospel. Forgiving others is our way of sharing in the transcendent mercy and love of God. Forgiving others is our way of sharing in way God Himself lives. It may go against the grain for us to forgive. We may struggle with it. But if we find ourselves able to forgive others, it will make us similar to God and it will set us free as God Himself is free.