“Does a man harbour anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord?” (Sirach 28:3)
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus outlining the steps we must take in reconciling with someone who sins against us. Rather than wait for the one who has hurt us to apologise, Jesus wants us to make the first move – to seek reconciliation even before they admit their fault. Honestly, this is hard.
In today’s Gospel passage, Peter asked Jesus: “How often shall someone sin against me and I forgive? As many as seven times?” As if reconciling with those who hurt us is not difficult enough, Jesus raises the bar by responding: “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22).
Why should I be so generous with my forgiveness? Why should I keep giving others the room to hurt me? Where does justice come into the picture? If I keep forgiving, will they not take me for a fool? In response to these questions, Jesus gave the parable in today’s Gospel passage. This brings us to our lessons for today:
1. Harbouring Anger Leads to Sin.
As our first reading says, “Anger and wrath, these are also abominations, and the sinful man will possess them.” There is a difference between becoming angry (a natural human reaction) and harbouring anger. St. Paul says: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Anger makes room for the devil in your heart.
When you are angry for too long, the devil seizes your anger as an opportunity to whisper evil suggestions to you. You find yourself thinking of how to inflict pain on others or wishing something bad happened to them. It is witchcraft to celebrate the downfall of others just because they hurt you in the past. Anger makes us witches. What do you expect when you go on an excursion with the devil? When angry for too long, you cannot resist temptations to sin. You know what you are about to do is evil, but you justify it based on your anger.
2. Failure to Forgive Blocks Your Prayers from Reaching God
Our first reading says: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong he had done, then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Jesus teaches us: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15). In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother returns from work. He hears music and dancing but refuses to go in.
Ronald Rolheiser comments: “What is keeping him outside since he is doing everything correctly after all? Bitterness and Anger. A bitter, unforgiving heart is just as much a blockage to entering God’s house as is any moral transgression. We can be scrupulously faithful and still find ourselves standing outside God’s house and the circle of community and celebration because of a bitter heart.”
3. Failure to Forgive Damages our Health
St. Alphonsus de Ligouri says, “The disturbance of mind to which we give way on account of the maltreatment we receive from others is more hurtful to us than the injuries offered to us … He who indulges in anger is a cause of pain to himself.” Many people today find it difficult to sleep at night just because they have yet to let go of the wounds they nurse in their minds.
Some find it difficult to enjoy their meals or even laugh just because they keep replaying the hurtful words others said to them. Many have landed in the hospital for illnesses triggered by the failure to forgive. Our first reading today asks: “Does a man harbour anger against another and yet seek healing from the Lord?” In other words, if you do not forgive, you do not deserve good health.
Forgiveness is therapeutic. If you know anyone sick, visit them and ask them to forgive anyone who has hurt them. Forgiveness has been proven to be more powerful than medicine in many cases. I refuse to forgive; I am like a person holding burning coals with my bare hands, intending to throw them at those who have hurt me. Once again, I ask, “Who suffers more when I do not forgive?”
4. Failure to Forgive Denies Us of God’s Mercy
When the master was told how the servant refused to forgive his fellow servant, he no longer listened to his pleas. He does not deserve mercy if he could imprison his fellow servant for a lesser debt. Jesus taught us: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
Are you angry with someone? Do you feel like ripping them apart? You feel this way because of your self-righteousness. You consider yourself better than them. You may have done worse things to others without even knowing it. You may have caused greater pain to God. As much as you crave justice, let the pain you feel remind you of the pain your sins cause to God. We are all debtors; we have all sinned against God, and anyone who says he hasn’t is a liar. (Cf. 1 John 1:8).
Who suffers more when I don’t forgive? Is it me or the one who offended me? So far, we have seen that I am the one who suffers more when I don’t forgive. Forgiveness is hard but better than holding on to past grudges and pain. If it weren’t a better option, Jesus would not have recommended it. In today’s second reading, St. Paul says, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” Remember: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return.” (Job 1:21). Make your life a blessing to others, forgive and be kind even to those who hurt you. This world is not our own; we are just passing through it.
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, into your hands, I surrender my pains. Free my heart to love others just as you have loved and forgiven me. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Ecclesiasticus 27:33-28:9, Ps. 103:1-4,9-12, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 18:21-35).
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu