Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Taken from Matthew 18:21-35, NRSV).
I have to begin with saying that I often dislike sermons based on this Gospel parable. Jesus does sound a little like he is being mean. What makes me feel that way? Answer. My false sense of self.
Admittedly, I have my father’s stubborn streak within me. I struggle a lot to admit that I have made a mistake, offended someone or had a hard time forgiving someone else who may have hurt me. What makes me feel this way? Answer. My false sense of self.
My false sense of self lies to me. It tells me that unless I am correct about everything; I am not loved. It tells me that unless I settle the score; I am useless. It tells me that unless I get everything my way; I am without hope.
To contemplate God’s forgiveness means that I have to let go of it all. If i am going to experience the mystical presence of God, I have to give it all up and trust in God, and not get everything right on my own terms. Yet, I am still faced with a false sense of self here. Who am I to believe that if I don’t do all the letting go and giving up, that God’s enlightening presence cannot do wonderful things in and through me? What if I am still hanging on to having to be right about letting go and giving up, is me holding on to a false sense of self? The answer. I need God to help me let go and to give it up. Jesus said in John 15:5b “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Here those words from the Prologue of Saint Benedict’s Rule apply. “Listen! Incline the ear of your heart.” Contemplation of God’s work of grace in forgiveness begins when we listen to God within ourselves even with everything in us that needs redemption. God reveals God’s Self to us in what is messy and imperfect. The Nativity and the Cross are our claim to God’s work in our stinky and brutal messes. They reveal that God is closest to us, giving us God’s light and love even when we have emotions about memories that we cannot overcome. When we have pieces that do not fit together, God is still seeing us from God’s perspective as God’s Beloved with whom God is well-pleased.
I have to wonder if our biggest barrier to forgiving others, is because we need God’s help to forgive ourselves. Even seventy-seven times.
What is your contemplative experience with God in those places where it is difficult to forgive?
Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB