Mercy and forgiveness go both ways: God toward us, and us toward others. As concerns others’ forgiving us, we cannot control that. It is a futile waste of time and energy to try to control others. We can only control, with the help of God’s grace, our own attitudes and actions.
In Matthew 18:23–35 we find the parable of the king who decided to settle accounts with his servants:
“When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.”
This is depicted in some translations as an amount essentially so huge it could never hope to be paid back. This represents our debt to God. When we sin we offend the Infinite, which creates an infinite debt. Being finite we can never repay that debt ourselves.
An offense is always greater as it relates to the status of the person offended. If I strike a friend in a dispute, the penalty under the law will not be nearly as great as it would be if I were to strike, for example, the President of the United States. Therefore our infinite God, Jesus, became man in order to take our place upon the cross in His passion and death so as to satisfy the infinite debt we brought upon ourselves with our sins.
How does our Heavenly Father treat us? With infinite mercy! We all need and want mercy, and it is at all times readily available for us from our loving Eternal Father.
What else does the Church primarily exist for other than to be the fount and dispenser of the infinite mercy of Jesus?
We are a broken, sinful, fearful people. Yes, we are most certainly wounded sinners and in great need of mercy. We do not possess the power to save ourselves and bring ourselves to eternal life in heaven. We are needy! But we need only repent to receive God’s abundant and always available mercy. Repentance is liberating!
When we repent we are released from the heavy bonds of sin and fear which weigh us down body, mind, soul, and spirit. When we repent we are honest with ourselves in God’s light, and admit to our dependency on God. You see Jesus came to “set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).
Returning to Matthew 18:
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of the servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.
Our offenses against each other are finite regardless of their level of seriousness. We are called to have compassion on and forgive others, as God has compassion on and forgives us.
“He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ ”
Yes, be patient! This is what we are called to be with each other, to be merciful and forgiving.
“But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.”
We can clearly grasp the injustice in the lack of forgiveness expressed in this parable when the debtor who had been forgiven an impossibly huge amount refused to forgive his fellow servant a comparatively minuscule sum, mercilessly holding a grudge, demanding restitution, venting his rage and bitterness, choking him, and throwing him into prison. If fact when we behave this way toward others we are actually imprisoning ourselves in a dungeon of our own making, one of egocentric hate and fear. And this is a foul prison.
“Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.”
Do we not often become disturbed when we encounter injustice involving others? Yes! But we tend to be slow in noticing our own unjust actions.
His master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.
Yes, it can be very costly, but we have the irrefutable obligation to forgive in a heartfelt way everything of everyone who has offended or hurt us. This is a primary condition of our receiving mercy. This forgiveness should be immediate and with no limit on the number of times we forgive.
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
This is the essence of mercy. Mercy has no limits. God’s mercy is infinite. We must strive to be people of limitless mercy, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect which is possible with God’s always available assistance. It is in this that we become free and find true peace in Jesus.