“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Just imagine what sort of world we would live in if this simple statement could become a reality. Imagine feeling the relief of being forgiven for our sins and in turn, forgiving those who had sinned against us. Imagine the same people forgiving those who had sinned against them and so on and so on until the world’s screaming grievances grew gradually quieter and finally disappeared altogether. What a wonderful world that would be. Is it any wonder Jesus talks so much of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation?
So how can we make forgiveness more of a reality? How can we make forgiveness globally ‘infectious’? Firstly we need to look inwards. What do we each need to be forgiven for? Who might we be hurting, perhaps unintentionally? Might we have made someone feel small or stupid with a careless or overly sharp remark? Might we have spoilt someone else’s relationship by indulging in an affair? Have we neglected a lonely or vulnerable family member? Might we have bullied someone, gossiped behind someone’s back, lied, cheated or taken something that didn’t belong? Have we contributed to keeping someone else in poverty or denied a helping hand when it was desperately needed? Only when we can admit our own sins and unburden our own guilt can we really appreciate the value of forgiveness in the lives of others.
Offering forgiveness is just as hard as asking for it. How often do we hear someone say, “I will never forgive that person for what they have done!” Behind the statement is a deep rooted need to avenge the offender, either by hurting them back, or by withholding forgiveness. One person not forgiving another person is bad enough, but when entire nations are unable to forgive, then mankind is in big trouble! Sometimes the sins of others are so great that we wonder how we can begin to forgive. Sometimes a crime is so great and the culprit so devoid of remorse that we wonder whether we should really be expected to forgive, yet Jesus tells us, “I do not tell you to forgive seven times but seventy seven.”
It is clear that we need a few helpful strategies in place to move us from feelings of vengeance and violence to a more peaceful place. The first and probably the easiest strategy is to search for some level of understanding and empathy. Understanding why someone has done something is a strong platform for forgiveness. However, where empathy totally eludes us, it is important for us to entrust the mechanics of justice to others who are less angry and less prejudiced than ourselves. Another ‘must’ is to set aside any notion of forgiveness turning us into doormats or naïve and deluded ‘do-gooders’. The strategy that Jesus teaches us today is that we can become more compassionate as individuals by remembering how often we have been forgiven ourselves…. perhaps more times than we can remember.