How Many Times Should We Forgive?
“How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” Peter asked Jesus. “Should I forgive him up to seven times?” And Jesus answered Peter with these words: “I tell you, not seven times, but seven times seventy.” (Matthew 18: 21-22) I think that was Jesus’ way of saying that we should just always keep on forgiving and not keep records of how many times we forgive.
God, who gave his Son for us, reveals Himself as merciful. Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God our heavenly Father is always ready to welcome any of his wayward children when they take a step that leads towards home. To follow the way of the Lord, Christians are called on to pour their mercy over all of those who recognize themselves as sinners, and who feel the need for forgiveness.
Scripture says: “For God did not send His Son (Jesus) into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 2:17) And we Christians are to follow His example. In his book about mercy Pope Francis writes:” The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.” He goes on to say that “…the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, is a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded”, who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.”
Someone asked Pope Francis if God can forgive and extend mercy to a person who is not sorry for his or her sins. Here is part of his answer. Pope Francis answers that mercy is there, but if a person doesn’t want to receive it, doesn’t recognize himself or herself as a sinner, it means that he doesn’t feel the need for it. The Pope believes that there is a narcissistic illness that makes people bitter. That there is pleasure in feeling bitter. The person may rationalize why they sinned, or not believe that there is anything wrong with their sin in the first place. They can even be proud of their sin.
The Pope answers that it is easier for us to want God’s forgiveness and be sorry for our sins when we are humble. When we remember where we come from. That we come from dust. He insists that it is important that we not think of ourselves as self-sufficient. For Scripture says: “In Him (God) we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Without God we would be nothing!
Pope Francis speaks out against religious leaders who are scholars of the law but forget to be the shepherds of God’s people. These scholars of the law who live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love: people who only know how to close doors and draw boundaries. He rails out against proud judgmental people who formally adhere to rules and to mental schemes.
He believes that some very religious people feel that they own the doctrine and the power of their faith and they close themselves off from God’s surprises. He warns us to always leave an open door for the sinner. He adds that “a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus.”
The Pope goes on to explain the importance of repentance. The necessity for all of us humans to acknowledge our sins. He says that God forgives anyone who is repentant and He showers His mercy on everyone who asks for it. We humans are often the ones who do not know how to forgive.
Pope Francis says that there is a difference between a regular sinner and a corrupt person. He goes on to say that the sinner who sins again and again and keeps coming back to ask for forgiveness, is forgiven and accepted by God. But the corrupt person is the one who does not repent and who believes that he or she is just fine sinning and doing things his own way. The corrupt person is not humble and he does not believe that he needs God’s help.
Pope Francis warns against the evils of corruption and says these words: “We must not accept the state of corruption as if it were just another sin, even though corruption is often identified with sin. In fact, they are two distinct realities.” He continues with these words: “Corruption is not an act but a condition, a personal and social state in which we become accustomed to living. The corrupt person is so closed off and contented in the complacency of his self-sufficiency that he does not allow himself to be called into question by anything or anyone.” But the pope insists: “God can find His way into the hearts of the corrupt and grant them the grace of shame, the grace to recognize themselves as sinners in need of His forgiveness. “
We live in a society that teaches us that we should be self- sufficient and proud of ourselves. But as followers of Christ we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And now we march to a different drummer and follow a different logic. As Christians we are in the world but not of it (John 17:16) Scripture also says: “If anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The rules of the kingdom of heaven are often backwards from our worldly rules. But we believers in Christ are given the Holy Spirit to guide us in the ways of this new logic. God’s logic of love.
As citizens of the heavenly kingdom we are to live in the presence of God, turn the other cheek, and imitate God’s mercy. We are born again into this heavenly kingdom and Jesus has given us new ways of living. “Give to the one who asks and do not turn your back on the one who wants to borrow.” (Matthew 5:42) and “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Gods’ logic is different from the world’s logic. His logic is an over-abundance of mercy and love.
Jesus does not send us out as His disciples to be holders of power or judgmental law givers. His kingdom is not political but spiritual! We cannot serve God and money both. (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13) Jesus sends us out into the world to live in the logic of love and selflessness. We are to pass on the message of Christ by embracing the outcast and the sinners and the marginalized. The serve the lost and the least.
The world’s logic is money, sex and power. But God’s logic is the over-abundance of mercy and love. We can’t serve both the world’s logic and God’s. We have to make a choice. God calls us to get involved and open our hearts. The world will know we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35) “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” (words of Saint John of the Cross)
This blog was taken from Pope Francis’s book “The name of God is Mercy”