Forgiveness: seventy-seven times
Last week I lost my watch. Such an annoyance! It was not a silver vintage Rolex worth £ 3000, but only a water resistant watch worth less than £20. Still, during the first day I was looking at my wrist a dozen times and to my growing irritation I did not know what time it was. This sudden loss made me aware of how dependent I am on the knowledge of time. The whole episode showed me how often I look at my watch to try to coordinate my activities. Without a watch I am on the edge of chaos. Not surprisingly, I am looking forward to a new watch,
which although equally non-expensive, will help me to organise better my daily life.
Our recent holiday started with a disaster. Having spent the last five years going on holiday in the UK, this time we decided to go abroad, and take our children to the sunny Italy. All preparations went very well, we thought about everything, including children’s passports and toothbrushes. We booked a charming little B&B near Gatwick airport in order to have a convenient trip to the airport. Next early morning very excited, we were almost first in the long queue at the check-in desk. The lady checked our luggage, then she looked at our passports and calmly stated: “Um, had you realised your son’s passport has expired?” Obviously not. Can you imagine our reaction? At the end of the day, how often do you check the expiry date of your children’s passports? We had taken for granted that passports last a decade…
Today’s Gospel reminds us about the crucial value of forgiveness in our life. The theme of forgiveness is well known to our Christian ears; almost every sermon somehow refers to God’s mercy and forgiveness. For example, during the Eucharist we mention forgiveness at least ten times. Forgiveness, like our watch and passport, is always there. Easy to reach, taken-for-granted naturally related to our life. Today’s Gospel mentions Jesus’ commandment to forgive seventy-seven times and we take this expression as an axiom, a well-known standard, a predictable attitude. That is what we know, what we expect from others and from God. There are, however, situations in our life, which are ‘wake-up calls’. It is not even when we have to forgive others their offenses, but when we have to forgive ourselves. In the light of Christ’s teaching forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Forgiveness is so close to love, love as charity, that it has been see as another name of God. God is love, but also God is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the inner ambience of God’s heart, its rhythm, its warm, its openness… Forgiveness, as some say, is the path to God’s heart. An ancient story reminds us about this so well:
“How shall I get the grace of never judging my neighbour?” – asks a disciple to his spiritual master.
“Through prayer.” – replied the master.
“Then why have I not found it yet?”
“Because you haven’t prayed in the right place.”
“Where is that?”
“In the heart of God.”
“And how do I get there?”
“Understand that anyone who sins does not know what he is doing and deserves to be forgiven”, answered the master.
Where to find the strength to forgive? – we may ask. First, we must believe that each human being is created as God’s image. She or he is good in his or her nature, but she or he is lacking awareness of that. Secondly we must be very close to God’s heart to practice forgiveness, to be aware that each day needs a positive, constructive act of charity. Thirdly, we must be aware that often in our society, forgiveness is seen as weakness. People who forgive those who have hurt them or their family are made to look as if they really don’t care about their loved ones.
But forgiveness is tremendous strength. It is the action of someone who refuses to be consumed by hatred and revenge.
Forgiveness can be liberating. Carrying around a desire for revenge or a need to avoid someone is not healthy: Hostility and aggression are linked to a host of health problems. People who are able to forgive benefit through a decrease in anxiety, depression and hostility; and an increase in hope, self esteem and well being. Empathy motivates forgiveness. People who feel empathy for the offender are more able to forgive than those who don’t.
Lord, how often should I forgive?
Lord, how often should I check the time on my watch and the validity of my passport, or passports of my loved ones? As often as possible. Then we can be reassured that our life is made of many unique and precious moments. Then we can be reminded about our responsibility and care. We should not take forgiveness for granted, but reassure ourselves that in every moment of our life, every month and year, we are able to realise the plan of our journey, which opens some new adventures at the airports, but ultimately is made of minutes and seconds given us by God.
Revd Dr Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowsk
 Anthony de Mello, One minute Wisdom, (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1987), p.16.