The fact that the Christian God is slow to anger has often been taken for granted, and misconstrued for impotence. Meanwhile the gods of the traditional religion, when consulted, are considered quick to expose offenders and deal ruthlessly with them.
More than any other time, Lent is an awesome season to preach the unfathomable mercy of God, in words and in actions. He is slow to anger and full of mercy.
What this nature of God teaches is that He is not moved by evil. He does not desire the death of a sinner. He gives countless chances for the sinner to repent and be saved.
This is what we are called to imitate and do as believers; we are called to be like this ever-forgiving God. Christians must forgive without limit.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Apostle Peter would have loved to forgive just for seven times, which is the maximum requirement of the law. But this is not so for Jesus.
Playing on the significance of the number, seven, Jesus says seventy times seven (490) times; seemingly our act of forgiveness must be boundless.
The morale of the parable that followed is that all beneficiaries of God’s mercy have no option but to forgive one another. As implied in the parable, we have all been forgiven first by God through Jesus Christ. As human beings, we owed what we could not pay. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, thus came to our rescue; he paid for what he did not owe.
In forgiving others as many times as we need to, we are only paying a little of what we owe God. How then can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? The response of God, which we often do not pay attention to, is: “If indeed you are sincere, show my goodness by forgiving a neighbour who has wronged you.”
What we owe God is more than what we can ever give back, even as He requires that we forgive our fellow human beings who have offended and needed forgiveness. The offender may be your spouse, parent, sibling, friend, colleague, work partner, worker. Forgiveness, like charity, begins at home. We must endeavour to show mercy to those who are closest to us. It makes no sense to show kindness to “outsiders” while those within are in need of forgiveness. Oftentimes, those who are closest to us are the ones who need our forgiveness more. Distant personalities hardly offend us because “familiarity breeds contempt.” Thus, Peter himself asked concerning the number of times he was to forgive his brother who offended him. Of course, “Eni a sun ti la nja run pa lu.”
As contained in the Lord’s Prayer, forgiving others is the “conditio sine qua non” to obtaining forgiveness from God. “That is how my heavenly father will deal with you if you also do not forgive your brother from your heart,” says Jesus. In other words, we are indirectly cursing ourselves if we say the “Our Father...” without having forgiven “those who trespass against us.”
Although forgiveness is not easy, just as the other Christian commandments are not easy to keep, but God has not called us to an easy life. In fact, He has called us to a hard life, for our Christian calling is a call to a higher form of life. We normally say, “To err is human, to forgive is divine;” hence, to be able to forgive requires divine help. It requires grace.
When we pray for mercy, particularly when we approach Jesus in the sacrament of confession, he specially empowers us to deal gently with others who like us are weak and burdened by sin. To forgive, it is necessary to
make good use of the confessional, which
is a symbol of Calvary where the mercy of God still flows.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who observed that “An eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind and a tooth for a tooth will make everyone toothless.” And the scripture says “offer the wicked man no resistance.” Revenge may be sweet, but for us it is a no-go area because it is not the way of God.
As humans, we are bound to offend one another. We offend others as much as some others grieve us. To keep other people’s scores in order to revenge or avenge is like putting someone in prison, or holding someone down, unduly. A horse cannot run while kicking. You have to free the person so that you can move on. Unforgiveness robs you of many things, and our fathers say, “Ti a o ba gbagbe oro ana, a o le r’enikan a ba sere” (If we do not forget how we have been wronged, there won’t be anyone to play with).
We are all beneficiaries of God’s mercy. We would all be dead if not for the mercy of God. So we are compelled to forgive.
St Peter Chrysologus says, “He who wishes someone to make an offering to him should make an offering himself. He is an unworthy petitioner who demands for himself what he refuses another.” Indeed, he or she who does not forgive those who offend him or her does not deserve God’s forgiveness.