The forgiveness of God is one thing, but the proof that we want that forgiveness is the energy we expend to make amends for the wrong.
Fulton J. Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living (1955) 106–7
The need for forgiveness is something of which we are, I suspect, all too aware. The last few years have seen our politicians making fraudulent expenses claims, journalists engaging in shady, underhand and illegal practices, the church continues to be rocked by immoral behaviour which falls short of what it expects of its clergy. People are hurt and they find it very hard indeed to trust many of our public institutions. The wounds are deep, they will not be healed easily. It will take time, and effort, and energy. There needs to be the recognition of having done things wrong and a desire and heartfelt commitment to turn away from the sins of the past and to work to make things better: this is what repentance is, what it looks like in practice.
Today’s Gospel begins with a very human question about forgiveness. In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells him to forgive his brother not seven times but seventy-seven times. We are to forgive each other as many times as is necessary because God in Christ forgives us. God loves us even to the extent of giving His only Son to die for us, to take our sins upon Himself; to heal our wounds through the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross. God demonstrates to the world the costly nature of this forgiveness – it is not easy, it is painful, nasty, and cruel. But in the midst of this evil and cruelty God’s love and life shine through: an act of torture, sending an innocent man to His death, can become the place where our human nature is restored and we can share in the divine life of love.
Our response to such divine compassion has to be that we, as Christians, live lives of love and forgiveness: we live it out as a sign to the world that the ways of cruelty and retribution do not achieve anything. This will not be easy, it will be diﬃcult: impossible on our own, and still barely achievable when we do it as a community, unless we rely upon the God who loves us and forgives us, who heals and restores us. It will look like foolishness to the world, which demands retribution: there must be someone to blame, someone must pay the price.
Well, someone did, two thousand years ago in a town in the Eastern Mediterranean – a troublemaker, a prophet, who said he was the Son of God. He was not just a man, but God himself, who came to preach Good News to a world which did not want to hear him, which found it easier to kill a man who made people feel uncomfortable, who offered a radically different way of living and being. He offers the world unlimited forgiveness, not so that it can just carry on regardless, but so that it can be transformed into a community of radical love. This is not to disregard the matter of judgement: the master settles his accounts but is willing to give the servant a chance to make amends. We are the servant: we have a debt which we cannot pay. We have been forgiven, and so we are expected to do likewise. We live lives of truth and love and forgiveness to proclaim God’s marvellous love to the world and to invite it to join in. That is why every day we pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ so that the ways of envy, of hatred, of retribution, are replaced with those of love and forgiveness. God does it for us, so that we can do it to others: recognising our human sin and weakness so that we can turn away from it. We are to transform the whole world and everyone in it, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever