November 13, 2017
by Luis Rodriguez, S.J.
Creighton University's Spiritual Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin
Lectionary: 491

Wisdom 1:1-7
Psalms 139:1b-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-10
Luke 17:1-6

Praying Ordinary Time

In the early 1960s people were puzzled by a new German film, whose title had no words, just three digits: 491. In today’s gospel reading Jesus talks about forgiving seven times in one day, but in a parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven times. Now, 70x7 equals 490 and this was the basis for the German film’s title. If someone offends me for the 491st time, am I off the hook? Of course, 70x7 was not a mathematical reference, but a Semitic way of saying do not keep count of your forgiving. The reason for forgiving remains beyond 490 offenses.

Forgiving is not a spontaneous human reaction to an offense. What is humanly spontaneous is the desire to get even, to take revenge. Precisely because it is not spontaneous, forgiving needs motivation and that is what, in the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18: 23-35), Jesus presented to his listeners. The unforgiving debtor was not being unjust, for it was his legal right to demand payment of a debt. What enraged his fellow officials was the context of what they witnessed. The unforgiving debtor should have been forgiving, because he himself had been forgiven, and a much larger amount at that. It is forgiven-ness, the awareness of having been forgiven, that provides the motivation for forgiveness.

No, forgiving is not easy, but I wonder if at times we torture ourselves unfairly, when praying forgive us... as we forgive..., by thinking that we are not forgiving. We often miss the spirit of forgiving, because we miss the meaning of forgiving. Forgiving is not forgetting the offense or pretending that it did not hurt us. To forgive is not to forget the hurt, let alone to deny it, but to remember it without a desire for revenge. I submit that, when we think that we are not forgiving, because the hurt is still present, a pertinent self-question could be: if the person who offended me were in critical need of help – a fall, a car accident..., would I be prepared to offer help? If prepared, then I am on the journey toward forgiveness, but the process will take time to be completed. We cannot microwave forgiveness, we need to let the process simmer and run its course.

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