HOW often should we forgive someone who has wronged us? Peter asked Jesus this age-old question in the Gospel this Sunday. “Oh, Peter,” Jesus responded, “not just seven times but seventy-seven times.”
While Peter saw a limit to the number of times we have to forgive, Jesus taught “bottomless” forgiveness to anyone who offended us. And he taught this commandment not just by words but also by his redemptive action on the cross.
Don’t we remember his last words before his last breath? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And didn’t he tell the good thief dying beside him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise”?
“Well, it’s easy for Jesus to do that because he is God,” we might say. “We’re just humans, and we can’t just let go of resentments and anger.”
Let’s look at it this way. Who loses when we can’t forgive? Us! Because we will never live and die in peace as long as we hang on tight to wrath and anger. We will never experience healing and forgiveness.
Our First Reading from the Book of Sirach reminds us, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins. Remember your last days, set enmity aside, remember death and decay, and cease from sin!”
Pope John Paul II taught us that it is possible to forgive. On May 13, 1981, as the pope was crossing St. Peter’s Square, Mehmet Ali Aqca, who had escaped from a Turkish prison after receiving a life sentence for murdering a journalist, fired four shots with a 9-millimeter pistol at him, hitting his lower intestine, right arm, and index finger. Despite severe blood loss, the pope survived.
In 1983, Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin in prison. They had a private conversation and ended up as friends. The pope even stayed in touch with Aqca’s family.
In 2000, he requested that Aqca be pardoned and released from prison.
What was even more impressive was Aqca’s conversion to Christianity and his profound admiration and love for Pope John Paul II, now a canonized saint. In December 2014, Aqca returned to Rome and laid two dozens white roses at the pope’s tomb.
Let’s stop nourishing hatred and unforgiveness in our hearts to live and die in peace! Amen.
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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.