The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
It is daunting to consider the true ramifications of Christ’s command to forgive unconditionally, but Christ’s message here is clear. We have to forgive. Full stop. The realization of this strikes us hard, especially on the 19th anniversary of 9/11, when many of us are challenged to forgive what we might think of as unforgivable. But as we read the gospel lesson this week, we hear Jesus tells us that there are no limits to forgiveness, for if God can forgive us for the innumerable sins that we commit daily, both the great and the small, then we in turn are obligated to forgive each other without restriction. What a challenge - one that seems impossible for us to manage! And yet, when you think about it, what it asks of us is fairly simple. We just don’t want to do it.
Still, forgiving, though simple, is not necessarily easy. It isn’t about just being nice and agreeing to simply bury the past. Forgiving is not forgetting, for instance, because actions have consequences and wrongs must be righted: criminals are tried and incarcerated, ties to abusive spouses are cut, bullies are reported, and terrorists and the masterminds of terrorist plots are hunted down and brought to justice. Forgiveness does not release guilty parties from the consequences of their actions. But it does open the door to reconciliation for them. It allows them to stand before God and repent. And it frees the wounded from the shackles of bitterness, hatred, and resentment. In this sense, forgiveness, initiates a process of healing both for the person who has wronged another as well as for the person who was wronged.
On the nineteenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, Christ’s words remind us that we need to heal through forgiving; but this does not happen in an instant, it takes time and it takes work. It is so hard to love and forgive when our immediate reactions are ones of resentment and revenge. But if we can remind ourselves that we are called to forgive, we will find our way to paths of grace.
We are not asked to forget, but we are asked to look deep within ourselves and summon that spark of the divine that compels us to want to forgive and to extend God’s grace to others, forgiving others as we have been forgiven, forgiving even the unforgivable!