The Gospel St. Matthew V.20
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
Forgiveness; You’ll pardon me if I’ve touched on this subject before, but today’s Gospel lesson leads me to that word. Forgiveness; It’s something that we all want for ourselves. We want God to forgive us for our sins. We want others to forgive us for anything we’ve done to offend them. We all want to be forgiven; as long as it’s not too much work, of course.
There are a couple of definitions for the word “forgiveness”. The first definition is “the act of excusing a mistake or offense”. Pretty straight forward, pretty simple; “the act of excusing a mistake or offense”. This is something that we often take for granted; after all, we do it all the time, don’t we?
If we bump into someone while walking down the street, what’s the first thing we say? Well, OK, some of us might say, “Hey, watch where you’re going”! But most of us automatically say, “pardon me”. I’ve heard people say, “excuse me” when they cough or need to clear they’re throat. These days, we seem to have turned it all around. I’ve heard people who take offense to something and respond by saying, EXCUSE ME?
Yes, we all want other people to forgive us. But rarely are we willing to actually do anything to gain forgiveness. We just want people to accept that this is how we are. This is the way we act. This is the way we think. Just accept that we make mistakes. Just forgive us, because we are human after all. This is the easy way to forgiveness, because it takes all the responsibility off from us and places it on someone else.
How many times have we heard some public figure say, “I’m sorry if anyone took offense at what I said”? Not, “I was wrong when I said that”, but rather, “I’m sorry that you felt offended”. And the natural implication is, “If you don’t forgive me, then it’s your problem”.
How convenient. We’ve talked ourselves into the idea that we don’t have to worry about being forgiven because if we aren’t, then it’s someone else’s fault! Pretty neat, huh? Now we can go on our merry way, safe in the knowledge that we don’t have to worry about being forgiven because it’s not our responsibility. Heck, even God has forgiven our sins! We’re off the hook!
Well, of course, it doesn’t work that way. We do have a little work to do. “So God loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”. Surely that seems simple, right? How many here would be willing to stand up right now and say they believe in Jesus Christ? It’s a pretty easy thing to do; except that Jesus had a few things to say about what it means to believe in him. Or as one of the guys on my former bowling team liked to say, “oh, now there’s rules”?
Well, of course there are. We get one of those “rules” today; “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”. This goes back to that whole “forgiveness” thing again. Because, you see, it’s not just about us being forgiven. It’s also about us forgiving others as well; which brings me to the second definition of “forgiveness”.
“Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”. As much as we want others to forgive us, we must be equally willing to forgive as well; perhaps even more so. Having compassion for others means that you must be willing to forgive them; and being willing to forgive them means that you are also willing to do so completely.
I have heard many people say, “I forgive them, but I’ll never trust them again”. Or, “I forgive them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me”. This is conditional forgiveness. It means that we forgive, but only so far. What kind of forgiveness is that? What if God practiced “conditional” forgiveness?
Think about that. If God said, “I forgive you, but I’ll never trust you again”, or, “I’ll never forget what you did to me”, where does that leave us? What about our salvation? What about our eternal life? What about our guarantee of paradise? If God practiced “conditional forgiveness”, could we ever get to heaven? Would it even be possible?
But of course, God doesn’t practice “conditional forgiveness”. He has forgiven us unconditionally! Everything we’ve done, all the sins that we have committed, He has forgiven! Why? Well, that is easily answered; “So God loved the world”. And it was this Love that caused Him to give His only Son as the ultimate example of “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”.
God sets aside the fact that we cannot be trusted. He sets aside the fact that He can never forget our offenses. He forgives us unconditionally; simply because He wants to.
I want you to think about this; I know that there have been people in my life that have made me angry. I know that I have thought that I forgave people even as I said that I would never trust them, or forget how I was offended. Now I want you to think about some things that might hit home;
Have you ever lashed out at someone, telling them how they offended you? Have you ever had a family member who caused you or some other loved one great pain? Have you ever had a friend betray you? Do you still harbor feelings of anger, regret, or pain from these things? I want you to honestly answer these questions, just to yourself.
If you answer yes to any of them, and I would have a hard time believing that any of us would answer no to all of them, then you need to begin thinking about unconditional forgiveness. More to the point, you need to be thinking about the unconditional forgiveness of God. Then you need to apply it to your own life as well. You need to start thinking about “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”.
We start at the true beginning for these sorts of things. First, forgive yourself. It’s a very Catholic thing to beat ourselves up for our mistakes; “Lord, I am not worthy”. But you must realize that you are God’s creation. You must realize that God loves you. You must realize that holding on to feelings of guilt will stop you from doing what you need to do. We are sinners. Accept that, repent for that, then move on to the next step.
Next, and this is really more simple than it sounds; forgive unconditionally. “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment”. Some of you may have noticed that I omitted the words “without a cause” in my quotation. That’s because these words are not found in any of the ancient manuscripts of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and are new as of the publication of the Authorized Version in 1611. This means that ALL anger is prohibited. This means that no matter the offense, no matter the pain others have caused; you must bless them, pray for them, tell them that God loves them; that you love them; from the heart, unconditionally.
And this may be the really hard part; if you’ve told someone how they’ve offended you, you must now follow-up. You must swallow your pride and tell them that not only have you forgiven them unconditionally, but you must also ask for their forgiveness! You must ask because of our own human penchant to be unforgiving; that moment of anger that Our Lord talks about “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment”.
Even harder, you may not be able to tell someone that you forgive them, because it’s impossible to contact them directly. This is where prayer comes in. In your prayers to God, ask not only that you be forgiven, but also that you be granted “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”. Ask that God support, guide and care for those who have offended you. Ask that they can find it in their hearts to forgive you.
As you might see by now, forgiveness is a very emotional thing. Forgiveness starts by setting aside those negative emotions; anger, pride, fear. “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment”. Then, we must take the next step.
You cannot be angry and have “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”. You cannot worry about your pride and have “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”. You cannot be afraid and have “Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive”. Be rid of those emotions. Then true forgiveness proceeds with the positive; peace, love, and joy.
Forgive your brother. Forgive your sister. Forgive your friend, your wife, your husband. Forgive yourself. Forgive, as God forgives you; unconditionally.