Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Seventy Times Seven Times, Forgiveness as Lenten Penance.
So what are we to make of Jesus response to Peter in Mt. 18:22? Peter asks if we must forgive seven times, but Jesus replies “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Other translations say seventy times seven times. I won’t get into issues of translation from the Greek here. Suffice it to see that Jesus means, “As often as is necessary.”
What then are we to do? I think that some important distinctions need to be made. The main one is that we cannot always reconcile, but we can always choose to forgive. Hugh? What does that mean? Reconciliation is the ideal. Reconciliation happens when two parties confront one another about a wrong that has been done. It includes the expression of hurt and anger and the quest for justice by the wronged party. Forgiveness is never about condoning evil, but rather moving beyond it. Reconciliation may take time for cooling off and reflecting. At times it may mean going to court, but in the end both parties agree that justice has been served and they are able to renew their relationship, never quite as it was in the past, but in a new way. Also the forgiveness that is at the basis of reconciliation is just a beginning. Trust after the forgiveness takes time. I have witnessed the true reconciliation of broken marriages and family relationships as well as business partnerships.
Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. Why? Because one of the parties is unable or unwilling to forgive. God only expects me to do my part. If the other person is in the throes of addiction or mental illness or is just plain mean reconciliation is not possible, but forgiveness is. How? Forgiveness happens when I realize that my anger, which may have been justifiable in the beginning, is no longer serving any good purpose. It has turned into bitterness and resentment. When this happens I have to ask God to heal my soul. This may take time. I may have to pray “seventy seven times” as it were before the resentment leaves me.
For Lent perhaps we can seek out someone with whom we need to reconcile, or begin to pray that a persistent resentment leaves us. Recovering alcoholics tell us that resentment is one sure way back to the bottle. I know from experience that holding on to them leads to a life of bitterness and sadness. I am much more at peace today because the good Lord has helped me to deflate the anger sack that I once carried. There is still some stuff in it, but it is getting very small.