Miracle of Forgiveness

        Coniaris - The Miracle of Forgiveness (Gems vol.2, p.123).

   Often times, when we read the Holy Scriptures and we listen to the stories of the miracles that Jesus worked to heal people of their diseases, don’t we wish that we could see more miracles or any miracles in our lives today? I certainly prayed and hoped for a miracle for the young woman who died yesterday, a victim of an aggressive form of cancer. God grant rest to her soul!

   In today’s Gospel reading from the 11th Sunday of Matthew (18:23-35), we hear Jesus tell the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the one who was released from a huge debt by his master but would not forgive the small debt owed by his fellow servant. When the master heard about it he had that wicked servant delivered to the torturers.

 At first review we do not see any miracle. But with the eyes of faith and humility, and the help of the Church Fathers and other commentators, we can see a miracle in this Parable. The master is analogous to God the Father. God forgives the servant’s debt, which is 1.25 million times greater than what his fellow servant owed him. We forget that the forgiveness bestowed by God is of a miraculous magnitude and that it can work miracles in and through us.

   But miracles are not like magic. God is not a magician. Magic is based on trickery to prevent an audience from seeing what is really going on; to create an illusion. However, miracles are real; they are not illusions. Yet, they will remain hidden and unreachable to us without the eyes of faith, without the experience and acceptance of God’s grace. We will not be able to see the miracle of God’s forgiveness if we do not ask for it, if we do not accept it, and if we do not pass it on. What if God said: “I’ll forgive but I will not forget…I’ll forgive but I won’t have anything to do with you anymore…I’ll overlook it this time but the next time, watch out!” Think about it, isn’t that what we often do too?

   Fr. Anthony Coniaris says, next time we’re thinking “how can I forgive so-and-so for all that he/she has done to me,” remember that Jesus is saying to each one of us… “Yes, but what about you? Your evil thoughts, your hatred, your doubts, the tasks you failed to do, the lies that you told, and the hurt you inflicted? Have I not forgiven you your great debt to Me? Then why should you not forget the debts of your fellow men and women?” If God has forgiven us such a great debt, which is beyond all paying, then we must forgive the lesser offenses of our fellow humans or we can never hope to find mercy. 

   Refusal to forgive makes us feel morally superior to the other person. Yet the bitterness and the hostility inside spreads like a fast growing cancer. It makes us sour and irritable. We begin to pity ourselves. We develop a martyr complex or a victim mentality. Before long we start to enjoy, or at least get used to our misery. Few people are more miserable than those who refuse to forgive. Why then do we not forgive? Jesus tells us it’s because we do not see ourselves as guilty before God. And this is another reason why we don’t see miracles today.

   Abraham Lincoln was asked one day about his enemies and he replied, “I have no enemies. I have destroyed them all by making them my friends through forgiveness.”

   Forgiveness works real miracles in the lives of those who give it as well as those who receive it. Many people have been healed of physical ailments and sicknesses, dramatically and miraculously, by giving and/or receiving forgiveness.

   We are all familiar with the story of Jacob Wetterling; how he was abducted 27 years ago at the age of eleven and has been missing ever since. Yesterday, the authorities found the body of Jacob and it’s likely that we now know who abducted and killed him. We will be focused on exacting justice upon this person, just like the thousands perpetrators before him. I’ve witnessed the righteous wrath of a victim’s family members when the criminal who murdered their love one is imprisoned for life or executed. They say things like, “He got what he deserved…or I hope he rots in hell…or I cannot forgive him for what he did…or I’m glad he’s dead”. I too feel this righteous wrath within me towards the murderer. This feeling is energizing but it is ultimately unfulfilling. What is more moving and inspiring are the victim’s family members who extend a hand of forgiveness to that very person who murdered or maimed or raped their loved one, because in them we see the miracle of God’s forgiveness at work. It’s the only way that $1.25 million debt is forgiven. Thankfully, most of us will not be in a position to forgive such a debt.

   First aid teaches us to take care of little cuts and scratches right away so they can heal and not become infected. How many little cuts in the form of daily disagreements with family members and friends do we take care of right away. A little grudge, a little grievance nursed, pondered and brooded over can become a cancer in our souls. We need to take care of these grudges and offenses immediately with the first aid of forgiveness to prevent those people from becoming our enemies. 26“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath (Ephesians 4:26). Forgive that same day, that same moment, in order to eradicate the spiritual cancer of hatred.

   How many times must we forgive? The verse right before today’s Gospel reading says,

21Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22). That’s 490 times! In other words, forgiveness is not a singular act. Rather, forgiveness is an attitude and a continuous way of life. And this way of life is rooted in the fact that Jesus has already forgiven us our debt that is so big, we could never ever pay it back. Thus, we are to go out into the world, armed with the spirit of forgiveness in order to heal the hurts, right the wrongs and change the society we live in.

   With e-commerce dominating the global market more and more every day, we need a login password for each and every financial transaction. Without a password we cannot even access our email that we’ve come to depend on so heavily for communication with family, friends and co-workers. Now let me ask you, “Are you having difficulty praying, difficulty praying each day, difficulty getting to church for worship each Sunday, difficulty participating in the Sacrament of Confession? Perhaps your communication with God and your fellow Orthodox Christians is being blocked. Perhaps you have forgotten your spiritual password to access these very important lines of communication and communion. What’s the password? FORGIVENESS!

   In conclusion today, listen to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus:

     31Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

   How many lawsuits would be dropped if we forgave? How many ulcers and heart attacks would be prevented? How many marriages saved? How many parent-child rifts could be healed? If only we could be more kind, more tender-hearted, more forgiving to one another as God in Christ has already forgiven us? Amen!