How do mercy and justice go together? How much must we forgive someone? The prophet Amos taught the people of ancient Israel that God would forgive transgressions 3 times, so when Peter answered Jesus that one must forgive 7 times, he thought he was giving an answer that was generous and pleasing to God. How unthinkable it must have been for Peter to hear Jesus say that one must forgive 70 times 7. Jesus illustrates his answer to Peter with the parable about the servant who had an enormous debt forgiven, but who could not find it in his heart to forgive a small debt. No offence our neighbor could do to us can compare with our debt to God.
Jesus teaches us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven, a powerful message for us to hear during Lent, when we are trying to turn to the Good News of Jesus with a renewed energy & fervor. As part of the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We ask God to let the experience of being forgiven so transform our hearts that we may likewise forgive others. It would be foolish for us to pray the other way around, to ask God to forgive us only in the ways we are able to forgive others. We learn from Jesus that the extent to which we as his disciples learn to forgive in this lifetime has ramifications for eternal life.
I think it is safe to say that forgiveness must not come out of our mouths alone, but that forgiveness must transform our hearts. For the people of the ancient Mediterranean world, the heart was the source of all thought and understanding, not just the center of passions and emotions as we view it today in the modern world. For those in the ancient world, the human will and conscience came from the heart. It was the source of obedience and devotion, the place where they met God and found transformation.
This Lent, may we open our hearts to forgiving others, may we repent and recognize those way in which we need to be forgiven by others. May this transform us in seeking forgiveness from God, in turning away from sin and in being faithful to the Gospel.