“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
That opening line from the Book of Sirach in the First Reading pretty much says it all. When we look around us today we see a great deal of wrath and anger. We do not need to look far to see this anger and hatred fueling so much of the public discourse and acts of civil disobedience. We have moved from a sense in more recent decades when we protested on behalf of something, to an era when we see the primary motivations to be against something. Wrath and anger manifest themselves in hatred.
We know that we live in a world that is and has always been infected with the disease of original sin. The nature of sin is to divide and to sow hatred and discord. There is no doubt that such is the case now.
Where in the midst of this intense anger do we find any sense of healing? Is healing even possible where dialogue is shut down and where violence reigns over peace and, often enough, even common sense?
In such an environment the fundamental question is how can we reach some kind of healing? What needs to happen to bring people together? Sure, flash moments like the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey can bring many people out of their inwardness towards a broader sense of charity and community. Sadly, however, it doesn’t take long to settle back into old ways of judging, thinking and acting.
Peter, yet again, speaks for every one of us when he dares to ask Jesus the question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?”
For most of us the idea of forgiving someone seven times, presumably for some rash or perhaps even repeated offense, seems unusual. On one hand we easily forgive minor hurts, or at least most of us do. Peter was unlikely asking on the day to day small offenses or thoughtless actions or words of someone. Rather, he must have been reflecting on a more grave behavior. If someone does the same thoughtless, crude, and hurtful act against you how often must you forgive? Is seven times enough?
Jesus says that seven times is not only not enough, it is barely hits the surface. This does not mean that, in light of last week’s Gospel, we do not engage in some form of fraternal correction or challenge that person to growth, but it does mean that we respond with compassionate forgiveness.
Forgiveness is empowering. It always changes the dialogue and should have the effect of making the offender reflect on his or her actions leading to conversion. The point of forgiving someone is not to leave the other to wallow in guilt, nor is it to punish through some passive-aggressive action or is it to leave the person where he or she is in their action. Rather it is so that the other can gain the insight to growth and transform her or his life.
Forgiving the other is not about me, it is about the other. However, there is the added benefit that when I forgive I can then let go of the hurt and not allow myself to continue to wallow in pain. Forgiveness, then, heals both of us – the offender and the offended.
When both parties feel offended, and when the hurt runs far and deep, taking that first step towards healing is the most challenging and difficult. Forgiveness calls for new ways of thinking and even newer ways of acting.
As we can begin ourselves to forgive – and to accept forgiveness – perhaps we can at least change our own corner of this world, one hurt, one person, at a time.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.