“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?”


Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 416
Mt 18:21–19:1
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times
           Isn’t it funny how Jesus discusses forgiveness by using finance as the example? Finance in that it by its nature deals with numbers and that it is calculated. In giving his response it is in that mathematical language. Seven and seventy-seven are finite and definite integers with little ambiguity, yet they also have little meaning. There is no law that dictates the number of times one must forgive a person of a debt, though there are laws that dictate how a debt should be repaid and there are laws dealing with how a monetary debit that can not be repaid should be negotiated. Forgiveness need not come from a legal statement or obligation; it also comes from an emotional and human one. Seventy–seven is not a legally defined limit of forgiveness, it is as often as is humanly possible. It is not from examining a law book or pouring over a binding contract: it is from listening and responding from emotion and intellect and reason.Is that what the first collector did to the debtor? His first response was to follow through with the contract and sell off the mans “possessions.”That is to sell him and his family into slavery and divide his possessions as allowed by law. In listening to the man plead his case the collector “forgave the loan.” When this debtor in turn went to collect a loan from another, he showed no mercy and did not “forgive the loan.” The interesting thing here though is that it was the loan that was forgiven, and that is not necessarily forgiveness towards the person. The first is eliminating a monetary obligation, the second is eliminating any animosity,or resentment towards that person. It is setting the person free.
          There is also another way to look at the examples that Jesus gave concerning these debts and the relationship between the debtor and collector. That is to look at it from the standpoint of the Roman Empire. One form of “forgiveness” that was practiced was clemency. Definitions of clemency are “maintaining a disposition to be merciful and especially to moderate the severity of punishment due or to offer leniency.” The difference between this clemency and forgiveness is that the empire would frequently crush and individual either militarily or financially(and usually both) and then offer clemency towards that individual. Though it might superficially  seem as forgiveness, its real purpose was to show the strength of the empire. It had little to do with the emotional reaction towards a human being. Imagine if God treated us this way, if sins were forgiven only as a tool of manipulation. Imagine if a sin was forgotten but the sinner was forever cursed. If mercy was granted to a sin, but there was no mercy for the sinner.If God was a God of Clemency, a lenient God rather than a merciful God.In looking at “how often I must forgive him”, it seems the important question is not only “how often” I forgive but “HOW” I forgive. “HOW” I forgive is to forgive as God forgives me…

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