In today's Gospel from Matthew, Peter asks Jesus a question about how many times we need to forgive one another. Jesus responds with a story about a king who forgives a servant, who in turn refuses to practice this same forgiveness with his fellow servant. Eventually, this vengeful servant is found out and the king withdraws his forgiveness and there is no happy ending for anyone involved.
By telling his disciples, and us, this story, Jesus helps us understand what the Kingdom of God is like ... how we should live our lives, today. In His story, Jesus shows us that God's forgiveness is boundless, with no limit to the number times He forgives each of us and personal honesty tells us how true that is. Because of that gift to us, we are expected to treat each other as we have been treated, by forgiving each other no matter how many times we feel we have been offended.
The theme of forgiveness is one not only addressed in this passage, but is also found throughout scripture. God continually forgives the Israelites from their many transgressions. Jesus preaches forgiveness throughout the Gospels, and at the very end will ask for forgiveness for others from the cross. Forgiveness — not just the way God treats us, but how we treat each other — is one of the primary messages God wants us to hear, the lesson God wants us to learn, the practice God wants us to live. But it seems so difficult to do when we are confronted with the opportunity truly to forgive.
Maybe we all find it difficult to forgive because we have not truly allowed ourselves to feel forgiven. Our culture — our world — does not encourage forgiveness, of ourselves or of others, and actually seems to be more about us being better than others, if not seeking actual revenge for offenses against us, real or imagined. To forgive and to accept forgiveness, we need to be aware not only of our strengths but also our faults. To honestly know ourselves is neither easy nor something always encouraged by people around us.
We may also find it difficult to forgive because we find it difficult to forgive ourselves. Even though we might think we know ourselves well, we may have "standards" or "criteria" for ourselves which not even the holiest Saint could ever meet. So, with these high personal standards, how can anyone - even God, perhaps - forgive us? We question God's forgiveness, because how could He forgive us if he really knew us? Do we really know — and accept — ourselves as fallible human beings, who need to experience the forgiveness of God, of others and of ourselves?
St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, leads us into an understanding of our fallible selves and, through faith, leads us into an appreciation of our forgiven selves. Now in Lent as we strive to know our loving and ever forgiving God even more and better, let us also ask Him to help us feel the healing forgiveness He offers us and can give us. Let us ask Him to open our hearts to allow each of us to know ourselves as forgiven ... open to be who we truly are, in the presence of our living loving God.
If each of us can feel forgiven and can forgive more, we will make the Kingdom of God more apparent, more real, for ourselves and others. That's what the Kingdom of God is like.
Have a blessed Lent.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.