How appropriate that the gospel reading for this Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, should be Matthew 18:21-35, a reminder of our call to forgive as many times as we have to. -- RG
by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
The disciples had heard Jesus say incredible things about loving enemies, praying to the Father for those who persecute us, forgiving the one who harms us. Surely it seemed an extraordinary but not very realistic, and very problematic message to them.
Now Peter approaches Jesus with a more practical and specific question that allows them, at least, to solve the problems that arise among them: suspicion, envy, confrontations, conflicts, and quarrels. How should they act in that family of followers that is walking in His footsteps? Specifically: "If my brother offends me, how often must I forgive him?"
Before Jesus answers, the impetuous Peter goes ahead and makes his own suggestion: "As many as seven times?" His proposal is much more generous than the judicial climate that existed in Jewish society. It even goes beyond the practice of the rabbis and the Essene groups who talked about forgiving a maximum of four times.
However, Peter is still moving on the level of Jewish casuistry which prescribes forgiveness as an amicable and regulated settlement to ensure the orderly functioning of life together among those who belong to the same group.
Jesus' answer demands putting oneself in a different register. There are no limits to forgiveness: "I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven." Keeping account of forgiveness makes no sense. Whoever starts to count how many times he's forgiving his brother is embarking on an absurd path that ruins the spirit that should reign among His followers.
The Jews knew of a "Song of vengeance" of Lamech, a legendary hero of the desert, that went like this: "Cain will be avenged seven times, but Lamech shall be avenged seventy times seven.” Against this culture of limitless vengeance, Jesus sings limitless forgiveness among His followers.
In recent years, unrest has been growing within the Church, leading to conflicts and clashes that are increasingly heartrending and painful. The lack of mutual respect, insults and slander are becoming more and more frequent. With no one disavowing them, sectors that call themselves Christian use the Internet to spread aggression and hatred, mercilessly destroying the name and career of other believers.
We urgently need witnesses to Jesus, who firmly proclaim His gospel and spread His peace with humble hearts. Believers who live forgiving and curing this sick obsession that has penetrated His Church.