Let’s face it, forgiveness isn’t easy. That person who said your job was worthless and they don’t even know why you are still on staff? Not so easy to forgive. That person who told you they didn’t want to be with you anymore? Not so easy to forgive. That family member that yelled at you in front of all your friends? Not so easy to forgive. But in the grand scheme of life, those are fairly little things. Christ forgave us as He hung on a cross, dying for each one of us.
We forgive others because He forgives us. Not just because He forgave us as He hung on the cross in the past tense, but because He forgives us in the present tense, each and every time we return our hearts to Him through the Sacrament of Confession.
Recall the Gospel story when Peter asks Jesus how often we are to forgive others. After answering Peter, Jesus tells a story of the king settling debts with his servants. The king calls one of his servants in and says that he will be sold, along with his wife, children, and property, in payment of the debt. The servant pleads with the king for mercy. The original text tells us that the servant owed the king 10,000 talents, which amounts to about 10,000 years worth of work. The king, in his mercy, forgives the servant. That same servant then goes out to find one of his servants who also owes him money. Servant number two owes servant number one about 100 days worth of wages – not nearly the amount that the first servant owed the king, but a sizable amount nonetheless. The first servant shows no mercy to his own servant and has him locked up in jail until he can pay back the 100 days worth of wages.
In that story, guess who we are? We are the first servant. We owe God 10,000 years worth of work to pay off our sins. And what does the king do when we plead for mercy? He forgives us. We forgive others because they can never owe us as much as we owe God. We are called to be like the king in that story, the king who shows mercy to others, even in the face of great debt.
Lewis B. Smedes writes,
“When you suspect that forgiving is not fair, you worry that the people who hurt you are not getting what is coming to them. But you worry, too, that you are getting a bad deal; you get hurt and do not get even. Forgiving may not seem fair to the people who must do the forgiving.
But you are not thinking clearly when you refuse to forgive on the grounds that you would not be fair to yourself. Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself. Getting even is a loser’s game. It is the ultimate frustration because it leave you with more pain than you got in the first place.”
Look to Christ. Did He worry that He was getting a bad deal as He was scourged at the pillar, walked the road to Golgotha, and died on a cross? Did He worry that He would not get even with us as we spat upon Him, beat Him, and mocked Him all the while? Forgiving may not have seemed fair to Jesus, given all the pain and torment He endured, but forgiving is the only way He could be fair to Himself. In some sense, forgiving is the only way that Jesus, fully God and fully Man, could be true to Himself, both natures of Himself. He recognized that getting even was a loser’s game, a game He was bound and determined to overcome. In His effort to overcome the loser’s game He took on all the pain and all our sins.
Smedes continues, “The only way to heal the pain that will not heal itself is to forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiving stops the reruns of pain. Forgiving heals your memory as you change your memory’s vision.” Take that statement from Christ’s perspective: the only way to heal the pain He endured is to forgive those who hurt Him. We all hurt Him. Forgiving us stops the reruns of pain. Forgiving us stops the pains of the scourging at the pillar, the long road to Golgotha, and the agony of the crucifixion. When we turn our hearts back to Him, His pain is lessened. We forgive because He forgave. We forgive because forgiveness is the only path to freedom, to redemption, and to Heaven. Christ showed us how, all the remains is to follow in His footsteps.