Sir. 27:30-28:7; Rom. 14:7-9; Mt. 18:21-35
Dear brothers and Sisters
Today we are taught about the greatness of forgiveness. In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus a question that has likely crossed all our minds at some point: "How often should I forgive someone who sins against me?"
To understand the depth of Jesus' teaching, let's first look to the Old Testament. In the book of Genesis, we encounter the story of Joseph, who forgave his brothers after they had sold him into slavery out of jealousy. Despite their betrayal and cruelty, Joseph forgave them when he had the power to seek revenge. He said to them in Genesis 50:20, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Joseph's forgiveness is a profound example of letting go of resentment and trusting in God's greater plan.
In the New Testament, we have the parable of the unmerciful servant, which we just read in Matthew 18:21-35. This story illustrates the incredible depth of God's forgiveness toward us and the expectation that we extend the same mercy to others. The forgiven servant's refusal to forgive his fellow servant starkly contrasts with the mercy he received, reminding us that our Father's forgiveness should inspire our own actions.
In Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables," the act of forgiveness by Bishop Myriel has a profound and transformative impact on Jean Valjean. The story begins with Valjean, a former convict, who is struggling to find acceptance and employment due to his criminal past. Hungry and desperate, he seeks shelter at the house of Bishop Myriel, unaware of the kindness he is about to encounter.
Instead of turning him away or reporting him to the authorities, Bishop Myriel welcomes Valjean with open arms. He not only provides him with food and shelter but also offers him a warm bed for the night. However, Valjean, tempted by his circumstances, steals the bishop's silverware and flees in the middle of the night.
When Valjean is caught by the authorities and brought back to the bishop's house, expecting to face punishment, something extraordinary happens. Bishop Myriel tells the police that the silverware was a gift and, to Valjean's astonishment, even gives him two precious silver candlesticks in addition to the stolen items. This act of forgiveness and grace is a turning point in Valjean's life.
Overwhelmed by Bishop Myriel's kindness and compassion, Valjean undergoes a profound spiritual and moral transformation. He breaks his parole, changes his identity, and dedicates his life to acts of charity and goodness. He becomes an honorable businessman and later adopts and cares for the orphaned Cosette, demonstrating the transformative power of forgiveness and grace.
Bishop Myriel's forgiveness serves as a moral compass for Valjean throughout the novel, inspiring him to not only seek redemption for his past sins but also to extend forgiveness and compassion to others. This powerful example of forgiveness is a central theme in "Les Misérables," illustrating how a single act of mercy can have a ripple effect, leading to personal and societal transformation. Bishop Myriel's forgiveness sets Valjean on a path of redemption, ultimately turning him from a hardened criminal into a selfless and compassionate man.
In real life too we find many heroes of forgiveness. Eva Mozes Kor's remarkable story is one of resilience, forgiveness, and triumph over unimaginable adversity. Born in 1934 in Romania, she, along with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to horrific medical experiments by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele during their internment at Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Despite enduring immense suffering and loss, Eva and Miriam miraculously survived the Holocaust's horrors.
In the years following their liberation, Eva Mozes Kor embarked on a journey of healing and reconciliation. She forgave the Nazis for the atrocities they had committed, a profoundly powerful act of forgiveness that not only liberated her from the burden of hatred but also became an inspiration for countless others. Eva dedicated her life to educating the world about the Holocaust, advocating for forgiveness and tolerance, and founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Indiana. Her legacy continues to shine as a beacon of hope and an enduring testament to the human capacity for forgiveness and healing in the face of unspeakable evil. Eva Mozes Kor passed away in 2019, but her story lives on, reminding us of the transformative power of forgiveness and the resilience of the human spirit.
Peter, perhaps seeking to display generosity, asks Jesus if forgiving someone seven times would suffice. In the Jewish tradition, forgiving someone three times was already considered virtuous, so Peter's suggestion of seven times might have seemed exceptionally merciful. However, Jesus responds with an astonishing statement: "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." In other words, our forgiveness should have no limit.
In our daily lives, we encounter situations that test our capacity to forgive. Perhaps someone has betrayed our trust, hurt us deeply, or wronged us repeatedly. Yet, we must remember that the forgiveness we offer is not condoning the wrongdoing but freeing ourselves from the burden of bitterness and anger.
In conclusion, the passage from Matthew 18:21-35 teaches us that forgiveness is not optional but a divine mandate. It calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven, extending mercy to others as God has extended it to us.
As we go forth from this place today, let us carry with us the wisdom of Jesus' teaching and the inspiration of these examples. Let us strive to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation, knowing that when we forgive, we reflect the heart of our loving and merciful God.