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‘How often must I forgive…?’

The Gospel reading today addresses one of the chief virtues which I think is the bed-rock and the hall mark of a good Christian living, and a flawless characteristic/feature of the Kingdom of God – forgiveness. We are told that it is “the Lord who forgives all our guilt,” and that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins.” This has always been understood as the primary characteristic of the Lord, whose love is creative and unconditional. On the contrary, human beings are the opposite; they always demand justice, the punishment of crimes and retribution for wrong-doing.

Because of our fallen conditions, there must be a redressing of the balance of right and wrong. We cannot presume that forgiveness will result in contrition and change of heart; if we did, society would fall into chaos. So we have to pray, and work for transformation in the spirit.

What we can be sure of is that the Lord wants us to forgive; he wants us to show compassion and mercy. The Gospel shows us the truth of our situation: we all yearn to be forgiven, to have our debts wiped away, our dreadful mistakes pardoned. And yet we are so reluctant to forgive even the most casual of offences; we harbour resentment and carry anger in our hearts for years. “Resentment and anger, these are foul things, and both are found with sinners,” says the book of Sirach (27:30).

Even in ancient times this relevant question was at the centre of the search for wisdom: “if a man nurses resentment against another, how can he then demand compassion from the Lord?” If for no other reason, let us remember the briefness of life; the terrible finality of death should encourage us to put life in perspective, to show magnanimity and compassion, after the example set for us by Christ our saviour, who forgave even his executioners.

Forgiveness clears a path for God to forgive us. The only obstacle we can put in the way of God’s forgiveness of our sins is our inability to forgive the sins of others. We all need forgiveness, and people who cannot forgive break down the bridge over which they themselves must pass. Blessed are those who forgive; they shall obtain forgiveness for their own sins (Mtt. 5:7) Fr Odinaka


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