Peter’s question raises a difficult topic that affects all of us: the need to forgive. This need often arises in light of the inevitable frictions of daily life in one’s family, or with one’s friends or professional colleagues. Not infrequently we feel hurt when we think that someone has offended us or failed to appreciate us or harmed us, and not just once but over and over. To forgive others can be hard. So Peter’s question seems reasonable to us: do I always have to forgive?
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invites us to reflect on what forgiveness involves: “What is forgiveness, really? What happens when forgiveness takes place? The offence is a reality, an objective force; it has caused damage that must be repaired. Hence forgiveness must be more than a matter of ignoring, of merely trying to forget. The offense must be worked through, healed, and thus overcome. Forgiveness exacts a price: first of all from the person who forgives. He must overcome within himself the evil done to him; he must, as it were, cauterize it interiorly and in so doing renew himself. As a result, he also involves the other, the trespasser, in this process of transformation, of inner purification, and both parties, suffering in-depth the evil and thus overcoming it, are made new. At this point, we encounter the mystery of Christ’s Cross.”
The difficulties we encounter in forgiving others are almost nothing in comparison with what Christ has done for each one of us. This parable expresses very clearly the contrast between the pettiness we ourselves show in struggling to forgive others and God’s infinite mercy. A talent was worth six thousand denarii and a denarius was a laborer’s daily wage. Ten thousand talents was thus an exorbitant sum that gives us an inkling of the immense value of the forgiveness we receive from God.
Saint Josemaria tells us that “the circumstances of the servant in the parable who owed ten thousand talents, are a good summary of our situation before God. We too are unable to find the wherewithal to pay the enormous debt we have contracted for so much divine goodness, a debt which we have increased through our personal sins. Even though we fight resolutely, we can never properly repay the great debt that God has forgiven us. However, divine mercy fully makes up for the impotence of human justice. God can say he is satisfied and remit our debt, simply ‘because he is good and his mercy infinite.’”
Faced with such great generosity on God’s part, how can we refuse to forgive others? St Josemaria has some further good advice on this point:“Far be it from us, therefore, to remember who has offended us or the humiliations we have endured—no matter how unjust, uncivil or unmannerly they may have been—because it would not be right for a son of God to be preparing some kind of dossier, from which to read off a list of grievances. We must never forget Christ’s example.” By fixing our eyes on Jesus we will learn to renounce all rancor and grudges and keep our heart clean and free from all enmity.
When the temptation not to forgive someone arises, we should recall the words of the merciful master to that heartless servant: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (vv. 32-33). When we experience the joy and interior peace that comes from God forgiving us, we will find it easy with his help to open our heart and forgive others.