Dear friends. There are popular catchphrases we use all the time in conversation. But whether they stand up to scrutiny or come from the Gospel is debate-able. One such catchphrase is ‘forgive and forget’. Does this come from the Gospel? The answer is no! Jesus asks us to forgive but he doesn’t ask us to forget. In fact he asks us to remember – to remember how we have been forgiven as we try to forgive those who have hurt us. This is a crucial difference to be aware of because forgiveness is one of the greatest challenges of the Gospel. Because we can never forget past hurts that were inflicted on us we might think that forgiveness is impossible too. But Jesus does not ask us to forget but to forgive as God forgives us – generously and without limit.
The Gospel story today is all about forgiveness. It is about a man who was forgiven a huge debt by a king who was moved with pity by the burden of the poor man’s plight. This same man then met another who owed him a much smaller amount. He failed to remember that mercy had been shown to him and refused to forgive the debt that was owed. This man is eventually confronted by the king and held accountable for his lack of mercy and for withholding the forgiveness that had been shown to him.
There are two points I highlight here. The first is that when we are faced with the challenge to forgive someone who has wronged us, forgiving them does not mean forgetting what they did or denying in any way what they did was wrong. In fact we can only forgive someone by consciously remembering what they did and forgiving them because what they did was wrong. Forgiveness does not deny the need for justice and reparation. This has been a very important principle in places like South Africa and Northern Ireland where terrible wrongs of the past are being faced up to in the present. And in that healing process, both forgiveness and remembering are key.
The second point from the Gospel is that the ability to forgive others is always tied to our remembering of how much God has forgiven us. God’s mercy is always above and beyond what we deserve and all of us stand before God in debt to him. The truth is that nothing we have to forgive can even faintly compare with that which we have been forgiven. St Philip Neri said that ‘if you find it hard to forgive, look at the crucifix and remember the Lord’s words as they nailed him to the cross. Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. Therefore, the more humble we become and the more in touch we are with our own brokenness and our own need for forgiveness, the easier it will be to forgive others. We do not have the right to withhold forgiveness from others when it has been so generously given to us.
I conclude with profound words from the Catechism that comments on the line of the ‘Our Father’ where we ask God to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. It says: ‘It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843).
Give us the grace Lord to forgive as we have been forgiven.