Forgiving Seventy-Seven Times

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy. The bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive and for many people also the longer it takes to forgive. The most dramatic example of forgiveness that I have ever witnessed was during my retreat in Maynooth three weeks ago (1999). The retreat was given by Fr. Joseph Bill, CM, an Indian priest. He has a very powerful gift of healing, and his ministry includes healing Masses and healing retreats. I want to share with you the example of forgiveness that I witnessed at that retreat. The whole retreat was leading up to a renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives, another Pentecost, on the second last day. To prepare for this we had individual confession but before that during one of his talks Fr. Bill asked those who needed to ask forgiveness of someone present to get up, go that person and ask for forgiveness. For a little while nobody moved and then one person got up and went to someone and then another few got up. Fr. Bill said there were still more who needed to ask for forgiveness. Then more got up and went to someone asking for forgiveness. A third time he asked people to get up and go to one another asking forgiveness. When you are in a group of 300 people who experience that kind of forgiveness it changes the group and unites the group in a new way. The fact that Fr. Bill had to ask a few times to get up and go to ask forgiveness shows that it is not easy to forgive.

Peter, it seems from his question in the Gospel today, also found it difficult to forgive. (Matt 18:21) He asked Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” It could give the impression that Peter was finding it difficult to forgive. (Could it have been his mother-in-law? Do you know why Peter denied Jesus three times? Because Jesus cured his mother-in-law!) Jesus said Peter is to forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times. (Matt 18:21) Jesus is saying we are not to hold any grudges. Holding grudges, being angry and resentful, storing up anger in our hearts, is very unhealthy. It can eat into a person. I read earlier this week that anger is one factor contributing to heart disease. We are to forgive seventy-seven times. We could look at it like this. Somebody did us a great injustice in the past. Every time we meet that person or think of that person we have feelings of revenge or resentment or anger. Forgiving seventy-seven times is thinking thoughts of forgiveness every time we meet that person or think of that person. Forgiving seventy-seven times is breaking the cycle of thinking revengefully and instead thinking forgivingly.

Is there anything that can help us to forgive those who have hurt us? Forgiveness is a decision. Decide today to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean blotting out painful memories but it means not acting out of them. That is why when the hurt is deep counseling may be necessary to free us from acting out of past negative experiences. One thing I say to people who are having difficulty forgiving a hurt is to repeat to themselves, “I will not allow X to control my life. I take control of my life back from X. From now on I will control my life.”

Another thought that should help us to forgive is to remember that Jesus died to save the other person just as he died to save you. Try to visualize the person beneath Jesus on the cross. Can you see Jesus dying for that person? Think of the parable in the Gospel today (Matt 18:21-35). The king forgave the servant who owed ten thousand talents (it would take 164,000 years to earn this! Yes, 164,000 years). God has forgiven us the sin of Adam because of the death of Jesus. Then in the parable that servant was owed the very small sum of 100 denarii (one hundred days wages) but did not forgive. God has forgiven each of us ten thousand talents (164,000 years of wages). We are asked to forgive just 100 denarii (100 days wages) when others offend us.

Another help to forgive somebody is to be humble enough to admit that we cannot control another person in the sense of expecting an apology from the other. Giving up the need to control or dominate the person who hurt us, surrendering the need to expect them to ask forgiveness from us, frees us to forgive them.

In this Mass today we celebrate Jesus dying on Calvary for us. Because of his death on Calvary the debt of 10,000 talents we owed God has been forgiven. We go from here and forgive those who owe us 100 denarii.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More related material for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year A

Jesus is our Model in Forgiving Others 2011

Related Homilies: Loving and Forgiving Enemies 2011

Love your enemies

Stages of healing and acceptance

Homilies on the sacrament of reconciliation

stories about reconciliation

stories about human forgiveness

stories about God’s mercy