Sep. 12, 2020

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2020

FORGIVENESS IS LIKE A ROUGH FLIGHT WITH A SOFT LANDING

Readings: 1st- Sirach 27:30-28:7; 2nd- Rom. 14:7-9; Gospel- Matt. 18:21-35

We all experience turbulence during our flights, trembling that creates panic and fear. Sometimes, we wonder why we should have flown in the first place at the very moment of such crazy experiences. We remain strapped in our seat belts uncertain of the outcome. Suddenly, the pilot takes control, announces calm, and eventually gets us on ground in a soft landing. Certainly, we remember the turbulence, but we emerge from the aircraft with smiles. “Yes, we made it,” that’s what the feeling is like. The soft, happy landing overrides the turbulence on air. That’s how it feels when we emerge from a tough life experience that put us through the test; when we forgive. The experience is part of our story but  we’re not to stay there.

The big question from the readings of today is, could revenge ever be the correct response to a hurt, an offence, or an abuse? Our emotions would say that revenge is okay. It might begin with little things; imagine you’re cut off by a reckless driver on the road, then you go into a frenzy. Instincts say, pursue that driver. You find yourself on a futile chase, to show this driver that you can mess her day up as well. You don’t succeed, you stay in that negative thought and feeling, and your day is messed up. But that driver goes on. That’s how crazy emotions can make us appear. Forgiveness scores low when emotions are in high gear. 

Forgiveness does not just reside in the emotions. As an intrinsic part of our faith, the limit to forgiveness is not set by us. It is set by God, hence Christ says, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:35) This statement is in response to Peter’s enthusiastic questions to Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:21) Perhaps, Peter thinks he is going beyond the Jewish expectation which says, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” For Peter, seven times is a great effort. Jesus makes him realize that he set the bar too low. 

Consider some extreme cases in our inter-human relationships and family lives: a marriage that eventually ends in divorce leaves hurtful feelings; a family feud among siblings breeds hatred; a daughter sexually abused by the step-father carries shame and resentment; a husband caught in affairs leaves anger and hurt in the heart; a foster child verbally abused by mom generates pains. Situations such as these expose the daunting challenge of forgiveness and faith. Yet Christ’s words remain, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Can Jesus not issue a waiver in certain cases, so we take our pound of the flesh? Not the case!

Jesus mentions many times in the scriptures the importance of forgiveness. Why? Why does he keep telling us to forgive over and over? We see the most extreme example of forgiveness by the Lord himself. He was being brutally murdered by people filled with hatred and jealousy for him. Certainly this would seem like a legitimate excuse for unforgiveness. They definitely weren’t sorry for what they were doing! But the very first of the 7 last words (or statements) of the dying Jesus were, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” It seems like He was making excuses for their horrible behavior. Think about this- He forgave them and they mocked and laughed at him. So why? Why forgive even those who aren’t sorry, who hate us? Some of us might feel we have hit the “seventy-seven” forgiveness mark set by the Lord. What’s next? Honestly, Christianity is not for the faint of heart; forgiveness takes us through a rough flight experience. 

Some people navigate through trauma, depression, insomnia, as a result of injury by their offenders. Some lose their jobs and valuable resources unjustly. These make forgiveness harder especially counting the losses, trauma, depression, emotional, physical, and spiritual injuries suffered. How do such individuals deal with these situations? 

Forgiveness is not just a feeling, it’s a decision. You don’t just say, “I can deal with my feelings.” Oh, sure, but Jesus will deal with your feelings better. We must hand our feelings over to Christ, that way, we know God’s grace for complete healing and forgiveness to happen. Authentic forgiveness turns the situation over to God who’s bigger than we are. Forgiveness says, the Christ in me recognizes (however hidden) the Christ in you.  

Forgiveness looks to the future because it is anchored on hope. It does not dwell in the past. It moves on. Unforgiveness blocks our peace of mind, causes depression, anxiety, addictions, family problems and physical illness. Unforgiveness poisons us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The Lord desires our happiness which is why he instructs us in life-saving forgiveness. It explains His extreme example of forgiving His persecutors – even though they weren’t sorry! Even though they mocked and laughed at Him.

The best approach is to understand that the process of forgiveness begins with inner healing which involves spiritual reconciliation. Saint Paul encourages us to, “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.” (Eph. 4:32) And Jesus said of the master in the gospel, “Moved with compassion,” he let the servant go. So, it starts with the self, from the inside. You must be moved with com (with) passion (sorrow, pity) for the other right from within. For instance, can you pray for the one who hurt you and not feel bad about it? 

One of my good friends in this church shared with me how a school mate who was arrogant and treated him badly in school reached back to him recently, after 15 years. These guys had no connection but the bully eventually sought him out on Facebook and invited him for lunch. This guy never knew why such a nasty person in their school days would be asking him to meet after such a long time. He reluctantly honored the invite. But it turned out that he wanted to say SORRY. It was such a healing moment. They moved on, felt better afterward and are both at peace. My friend said to me, “I forgave him… and I’m happy.”

Because God wants us to be happy. Forgiveness makes us happy, not the other person. Forgiveness leads to the heart of God. If you want true peace in your life, if you want healing, especially the wounds in your soul, if you want to be holy, learn to forgive as soon as possible. Ask God to help you and I guarantee He’ll answer that prayer quickly. In fact, if you’re struggling to forgive and can’t seem to do it yet, your desire to forgive is pleasing God. It’s an essential building block in the spiritual life. This is why Jesus says 70 times 7 times. It’s a phrase for eternally, means uncountable times. 

The Lord reminds you today, “Stop that chase! It’s not worth it.” Imagine how the master in the gospel forgave the servant of his big debt. But he continued chasing after the other servant who owed him little. You might have been hurt, bruised, and injured. You might be nursing the revenge of your life, waiting for a good moment to strike. You might feel justified to want retribution. Is it worth it? Revenge is a misfire which destroys the soul. 

Lessons about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is more than what we give to our transgressor; it is what we give to ourselves.
  • Forgiveness takes a rough path but leads to a happy ending, a soft landing.
  • Forgiveness is not just an emotion, not just an art; it is inseparably linked with faith.
  • Forgiveness brings inner healing. Emotionally, it heals depression, anger, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 
  • Forgiveness tills the soil of your soul allowing other virtues to take root.
  • Forgiveness brings peace that only God can give, which by its very nature overflows onto others. 
  • Forgiveness makes you become a light in the darkness. 
  • Forgiveness makes you enter into the heart of God. This is the secret of the saints.
  • Forgiveness makes you a healer. You heal others when you forgive. 
  • Grace makes forgiveness possible

 Think about someone in your life that you need to forgive. Maybe it’s yourself. Have you forgiven yourself? Maybe it’s another person in your life. Bring that person to the altar at this mass. Say a special prayer to forgive from your heart and ask God to bless that person. Decide for happiness today.