I, too, must forgive
In this beautiful homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly reminds us to forgive those who hurt us, as Jesus asked his Father to do, for they know not what they do.
First Reading: Sirach 27:30–28:7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Forgiveness, it sounds so easy. “I forgive you.” “Forgive me.” “I forgive you.” But all of us know that saying it is one thing and deep down in our hearts it’s quite another.
It’s just common. Every day, families break up over misunderstandings. Angers go deep. Angers are cruel, and once they are started they just go on and on. Everyone justifies themselves. Everyone wants to feel that they are fair, but they’re not fair; that they forgive, but they don’t forgive; that they are in the right, and the other, of course, is always in the wrong.
I can’t resist this, but there’s an old saying that men don’t forgive, they forget; but women forgive, but they never forget. I think it’s probably both sides are guilty of that.
We forgive and we forget, but very often we remember even after we have forgiven. And that’s as it should be, because we are here to learn to love and the only way you learn to love is through mistakes. And when you make a mistake, you should remember the mistake. If you don’t remember the mistake, you’ll have to go out and do the same thing all over again.
This is the trouble with saying, “I’m in the right.” Because “I’m in the right” does something that’s very, very dangerous. “I’m in the right” destroys the power to love. It’s an act of arrogant pride, because nobody can say, nobody can say, “I have never done wrong. I have never undermined the character of other people. I have never been so obstinate that people have suffered humiliation and pain.”
Everybody’s a sinner. If you’re not a sinner, you just shouldn’t be sitting here. A sinner, remember, is one who refuses to love, or doesn’t care to love, or undermines others and walks away and feels no guilt, because in order to feel guilt you have to have, as a minimum, a heart that knows it’s wrong.
This last few days, with the reading of the gospels, confessions have taken on a little bit more seriousness. And the confessions that one hears during this period, or outside this period, have always to do with people who recognise, they will say, “Father, no matter what I do, I can’t forgive. No matter how hard I pray, I can’t forgive,” because the wound runs very, very deep.
And what are we supposed to say?
Jesus says, “If you don’t forgive, how can you ask your Father to forgive you when you are in the wrong?”
And, of course, the answer is if you want to be forgiven, you must forgive, not just confess before God that you’ve done wrong, but you must ask the other person’s forgiveness, if you’re serious enough, or at least to let them know that you recognise that you have still love in your heart and caring in your heart and compassion to admit your mistake.
If we had a day where everybody admits their mistake all together — like the Jews have that kind of a day, Yom Kippur – then, for one day, the world would be different.
Now, I’ve been asked a lot of times, “Well, what do I do?” And I’ll tell you what I do. Is that okay? Because I’m making these mistakes all the time. I have never put myself up as a model Christian in any way, shape or means.
Francis of Assisi, the little poor man, he used to go around telling everybody he was the worst sinner in the world and, of course, everybody said, “Everybody knows you’re a big saint. Everybody thinks you’re so wonderful. You do nothing wrong.”
And he says, “No, I’m the biggest sinner in the world.” And they say, “You’re just bragging.” And he said, “No, it’s true.” And they said, “How can it be true, Francis?”
And he said, “Because none of you can see the inside and you judge me by the outside. And I know, when I look at my whole little history, how I have refused to follow God and to care about people and to live up to what being a disciple of Jesus means.”
And it’s very true. The only one who can accuse us of not being fair or unfair, the ones that can accuse us of not loving, is not the ones on the outside, but the individual in his own heart.
So, that’s the problem. I offer you the solution. And the solution is a lovely solution and you must remember or we’ll be here all day.
You remember when Jesus was on the cross? When Jesus was on the cross, his disciples all ran away. They denied him. They stamped their feet and said they didn’t even know him. Everybody began to jeer at him, call him a failure, which he was (everything failed), called him a fool, called him a waste of time.
They threw him out of his own church. They did everything that they could to humiliate him and to turn all the people against him. And these were the good people of Israel, the chosen people of God. And it seemed as if no one was there. Even his Father seemed to desert him at this terrible time.
And what did he do?
He opened his arms on the cross. He did the only thing possible. He looked up to his Father in heaven and he said, “Father, you have to forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And what of his Father in heaven?
I’m sure his Father looked at him and wept many tears. But they had decided to show the world how great was God’s love and this was the moment.
And so I can see him arguing with Jesus and saying, “But my Son, God from the beginning has always had two arms, one arm for justice and the other arm for love. And justice may be respected and must be respected. It’s just not fair what people do when they’re sinning and doing these things that cause great havoc in the world. And you’re asking me to drop my arm of justice and offer only love.”
And this is what Jesus asks: that God would no longer be just, no longer would be fair, but when He was dealing with human beings, He would only have his right hand reach out, and His whole heart in love, to forgive.
We’re asked to follow Jesus. We’re asked to follow him, not after the Resurrection, praying to him because he is with us in a special way, we are asked to follow him on Calvary.
And even Jesus failed. He failed in his message, but he failed on his way up, walking up the hill. He fell three times, but each time he got up and walked.
And he left a lesson to us all. He said, “If you follow me, you will come with me every step of the way.”
And so it is that our forgiveness is not based on our feeling, whether we feel disappointed, hurt or whatever. Our feeling is to know that we have joined Jesus in his most painful time, when we feel filled with anger and hatred for injustices done to us, when we tend to lose hope in all of humanity because of the wretched things that we do.
And we know that there’s only one path and it’s his path. And his path is to echo the words that he himself has said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And it is with God’s grace and love that we forgive them, not our own hurt little heart.
And then, when we do that, and we begin to do it in ones and twos and bodies of people and in meetings and in large displays of faith, when we begin to really follow Jesus up onto the cross and our words are as clear as his in our hearts, in our anger or whatever it is, we know that there’s only grace and everything else is nothing.
And if we do not forgive, we will never, never learn how to love. Because how to love is now dictated by how Jesus loved. And the beginning of knowing how Jesus loved is saying, “Yes, I, too, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
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Father Hanly's sermon for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, "I, too, must forgive" was delivered on 11th September 2011. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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