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To Forgive Everything

“If a man insults me, kills my father, my mother, my brother, and then gouges out my eye, as a Christian it is my duty to forgive him. We who are pious Christians ought to love our enemies and forgive them. We ought to offer them food and drink, and entreat God for their souls. And then we should say: ‘My God, I beseech Thee to forgive me, as I have forgiven my enemies” (St. Kosmas Aitolos).

We need to forgive everyone and everything. There is little in life so urgent and so healing as forgiveness. Forgiveness is so strong a medicine, that we must learn to see every insult, every slight, every misfortune as one of the greatest gifts possible: to teach us to forgive.

St. Peter asked our Lord how often we should forgive.

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Always eager and impetuous, St. Peter has a way of putting his foot into it. He completely misunderstands forgiveness, as all of us can relate. Look at our lives. Someone offends us once, and we can shrug it off. Indeed, it feels good to forgive that first time. It makes us feel righteous: “Look at me! What a nice person!” We tell ourselves. Then he does it again, and again. It starts getting annoying. In very little time, anger starts boiling in the heart. We become vexed, then indignant, even self-righteous in our judgments and condemnation. We even justify the anger along every step of the way.

It is almost comical reading about the interactions between Jesus Christ and his disciples. They never really get him, and make such silly remarks. It is easy to laugh from a distance, but in reality, the disciples reveal the silliness in our own hearts. They are caricatures of us all.

How often should we forgive others? “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” You cannot help but hear the humor. Christ was almost certainly laughing when he said this. Then he answers St. Peter more fully.

He tells a parable.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves” (Matt 18:21-35).

He looks at the books. Sure enough, one subject is ten thousand talents in debt. Ten thousand talents in that day and age was astronomical. The modern value would be somewhere between one or two billion dollars, an unfathomable debt. It could never be paid, and Christ’s audience knew this. The king had every right to throw this scoundrel into prison. The fellow fell on his knees. “Please, be merciful.” He was ruined. All he could do was beg forgiveness. “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Then the king did something remarkable. He forgave the man. He waived the entire debt.

He is free. He is completely forgiven. Can you think of it? It is normal today for college students to graduate with 50 to 100,000 dollars of debt. Just imagine it. You get your diploma, you toss your hat in the air and celebrate. You will now work as a barista at starbucks for another ten years and be stuck paying the rising interests of that debt until you die. One day, magically, the entire debt disappears. The government forgives it all, and this time, in this imaginary twilight zone, there are no strings attached. Can you imagine the gratitude — probably not, there is so much entitlement nowadays, the analogy does not really work…

The man is forgiven. Then what does he do?

"That same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt" (Matthew 18:28-29).

It sounds so absurd. It sounds way over the top. Who would actually do that?

I would. We all would. If we could really see ourselves, this is the way we live.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

V. The saints show us what true forgiveness looks like.

One holy father was dragged through the mud, spat on, and mocked day after day in the concentration camp. When he arose, he looked at the soldiers, with the most genuine love and compassion in his eyes. He said to them, “My sons, I forgive you. Bless you.”

The muslim world has been shocked in Egypt over the last several years. One church bombing after another, and yet, the Coptic Christians continually forgive and love. Within the week of losing her husband Naseem when St. Mark’s Cathedral was destroyed, the widow reported on the news: “I am not angry at the one who did this. I am telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.” A man’s two brothers were killed in Libya for their faith. He asked his mother what she would like to do to the murderers. She said should would invite them to her home and pray that God would touch and heal their hearts.

Of course, it is easy to marvel at these big acts of forgiveness. Yet, this is not the primary kind of forgiveness that Jesus is talking about. The real essence of Christian forgiveness is this: we must forgive all the little things. We must learn to forgive in the little insults, the little inconveniences, the little annoyances we undergo each and every day. We have to forgive not only people, and the most difficult people in our lives. We must forgive circumstances. Everything that happens, everything that goes on, all of it…

“I have learned to be content in all things,” wrote St. Paul (Philippians 4:11).

The cardinal rule in spirituality is this: accepting everything with gratitude.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

Christ came to set us free.

There is a beautiful novel by an Oriental Orthodox priest called “Elements.” It walks you through the sanctification of a boy named Elijah. After a year of pilgrimage in monasteries. He settles down at a farm. The work is splendid in the summer time and fall, but then gets tedious in the winter time. Everything is frozen. The pipes are not working. The animals are confined to longer hours in the barn. The odor makes him nautious. The cleaning is overwhelming. Then he looks up. He remembers Jesus Christ, our Lord, who condescended to our poverty, was born in a unkept manger, in order to be ridiculed, cursed, and murdered by his own children.

Elijah lets go. He rejects all desire. He stops grumbling at the inconveniences. He begins to embrace them. Each and everything that goes wrong is a blessing. They become opportunities for self-emptying. This was the real moment of his transformation. He stops eating more than once a day. He gives up sleep and offers long night vigils. A little time passes, an incident occurs, and he is cast out of the house, ridiculed, and told never to come back.

He is homeless. He is hated. He is wronged. He stands outdoors, barefoot, with nothing, and overflowing with peace and joy. He starts walking along. Nothing can harm him, because he has learned to forgive. He has become free.

Why do we get upset with anyone? Why do we harbor anger and resentment? Can we not see that God allows these things to happen to us? God refuses to let things go our way, again and again, because he loves us.

“Lord…how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Forgiveness is not a little thing. Forgiveness is everything. Everything that happens to us is good for us. Every insult, every slight, every misfortune is a gift. When we can finally let go of everything, only then will we fully comprehend God in his majesty.

May God teach us to forgive.


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