Articles
Forgiveness

F O R G I V E N E S S

There is the ancient adage: to err is human and to forgive is divine. In fact, we offend and hurt others many a time, each day. The just man sins seven times a day. The Lord asked us to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

Forgiveness is an act of the will by which you decide to think and feel that the other person did not know or understand, or did not willingly do the thing that hurt or offended you. It is not to react according to the painful action of others, which is an act of emotion.

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting, which is an act of the memory. Memory is replaying the record and forgetting is not fully under our control. We may forget a thing at a particular moment, but remember it at another time. Even those things that we thought were lost forever come at an unguarded moment and we wonder. Forgetting is not the same as forgiving. Like loving it is an act of the will, a decision not to hurt ourselves nor to hurt the other who did not do the right thing.

Graciella Martinez’s 15 year newly evangelized son was executed by Castro’s Batista regime – in front of her very eyes. The boy had told her, as she hugged him last: "Don’t hate them. Forgive them, Mamacita. Forgive them, or they will be the victors". But "In my heart, I vowed to revenge. I would get even with the assassins" she says. Ten years went by. "I forgave only when I saw how destructive my hate was, how it consumed my energies, crippled my friendships and disabled any good that I wanted to do. I wanted to be freed from the prison I had erected in my life. I saw at last the truth of my son’s last words that when we return hatred to those who hurt us we fall into playing their game according to their rules – and do them the great favour of suffering ourselves". How difficult it is to forgive, yet how important.

Abigail Van Buren, a journalist, once asked women-readers if any had forgiven an unfaithful husband. "What a grand and glorious thing it is to rise above the pain" one wrote. Forgiveness is the key to the History of salvation, though we cannot understand all the actions of God in this history. We see, for example, the punishment of God for the sins of the people and God’s repenting of his actions and punishment. God is always kind and forgiving.

It is not always the offence that hurts, it is our attitude. That is why we can get terribly hurt when someone whom we hate or don't like, does something displeasing to us. But if someone whom we like does the same thing, we don't feel any pain. Also it depends on the individual, whether he is happy or not.

David is a great example of forgiveness. David had great victories, in favour of Saul. All praise him for it. However, Saul was very jealous and wanted to kill David at any cost. As Saul "sat in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled, and escaped" (I Sam. 19: 9f).

Later ‘when Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, "Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-gedi". Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘ Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you’. Then David arose and stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my Lord, the Lord’s anointed." So David persuaded his men with these swords, and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave, and went upon his way". It is very interesting to read how later David explains to Saul how he has been so kind to him, nor has he any enmity with him (I Sam. 24: 1ff).

The chapter 26 is more dramatic. Saul is surrounded by his army and is asleep in between. One of the companions of David begs him to permit him to pin Saul with the spear. "God has given your enemy into your hand this day; now therefore let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice" … David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head; and they went away. No man saw it, or knew it, nor did any awake; for a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.

In II Sam. 16: 5 –14 we see one of the servants of Saul cursing David. And the reaction of David is: "If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him ‘Curse David’, who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ . . . Let him alone, and let him curse for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look upon my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today." A similar story is told of Buddha. A man was abusing Buddha, who called the man and asked: If a person gives you a gift and you don't take it, to whom does it belong. The man answered "to the one who gives it". Then Buddha answered, keep your gift for yourself.

Let us read Sirach 28: 1-4: "He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord, and he will firmly establish his sins. Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbour anger against another, and yet seek from healing from the Lord? Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins?" The Law of retaliation of the Old Testament of course was not taken literally. If it was followed so many, if not all, would be blind and toothless.

Jesus not only came as forgiveness from the Father, but constantly taught that we should be forgiving others if we want to receive His forgiveness. We read in the sermon on the Mount: If you are offering your gift at the altar, and thee remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift". "There you remember that your brother has something against you" – the simple question to pose would be ‘ how do I know that my brother has something against me?’ Is it not judging him rashly and Jesus also tells us not to judge? (Mt. 5:23f).

The instruction of Jesus in Mark 11:25 is very familiar to us: "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses". In the Our Father, Jesus tells us that the measure of forgiveness that we receive is the measure we forgive others: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." A fine and simple law of proportion. If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mt. 6: 24-5).

God is all forgiving. The best example of extreme forgiveness is that of Jesus Christ. Even when we were yet sinners God sent his only son Jesus practised what he preached. Hanging on the cross he prayed: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). The first martyr, Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, repeated the same message: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts. 7:60). St. James insists the same message: "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgement" (2:13).

St. Paul has very strong sayings on the matter. "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Col. 3:12-13). "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Rom. 12:14). "Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all" (12:17). "Then let us no more pass judgement on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (14:12). "To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren" (I Cor. 6:7).

The teaching of St. Peter is very hard to accept and live by: "For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take if patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly (I, 2:20f).

Again in 3:17f: "It is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit". Commenting on the words of Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, Martin Luther King said: When Jesus said ‘Love your enemy, he meant every word of it. We never get rid of an enemy meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity" (Readers’ Digest, Aug. 1982, p. 97).

Forgiveness makes you feel good even when you see others weren’t good to you or rude to you. We could exemplify non-forgiveness with the children throwing stones at each other. If one hits at his companion, the other could just go off as if nothing has happened. That would be the best thing to do. Or get even with him by hitting him back. At least the offended party is safe. The worst is to pick up the stone, keep it in the pocket and hit oneself whenever you think that you were once hit. Is it not un-forgiveness that hurts us so much?

If we wish to live and enjoy our life to the full, one of the essential things that we have to do is to learn to forgive.

 

Fr. Walter Lobo, Parish Priest


Fr. Walter Lobo, OCD,
Carmelite Fathers
Fatima Chapel
Shellim,  Loliem-Polem post
Goa-403 728
Ph: 0832-2640363
Cell: 94233313151
Email: walterlobocd@rediffmail.com

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