“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” “How many times must we forgive?” A question worthy of asking. Since we know that we offend one another, forgiveness must be part of the human experience.
“Three strikes and you’re out!” That’s the rule in baseball. Although there are rules in life, we cannot live by the letter of the law. What Jesus often did was to act like a mirror for those asking the questions. He told stories which reflected common situations. A king had a servant who owed him a huge amount and he had no way to pay the debt. That’s not unusual, especially given today’s economy. Even if we use credit cards, loan institutions, internet connections—whoever lends us money, expects payment—the majority at high interests’ rates. We are constantly bombarded with advertisement to purchase more than we need. Our capitalistic society promotes the idea that more is better. Consequently, many folks fall into the trap of going into debt. Even senior citizens fall into the trap. However, a bank will not give an 80-year-old person a 30-year loan. People who lend money expect to be repaid. And if we don’t pay back, they will come after us. However, in the story, the debt was forgiven, entirely. Originally the servant was going to be sold, along with his wife and children and all his property in exchange for what he owed. The servant begged for mercy. The king forgave him. The servant went from “My life is over, to I’m free—I do not owe a penny.” In the blink of an eye—everything changed. The turning point was the king’s mercy—the king’s compassion. The king was moved by the pain that he saw in the servant who seemed helpless at his feet.
Indeed, the servant was helpless. He had no way of paying what he owed. Who among us can pay God what we owe? Who can say that they are free of sin? Our salvation can never depend on us. We cannot afford heaven! Only through God’s compassion—through His mercy—can we hope to be saved. That’s why we get down on our knees and ask the Lord to forgive our debt, unworthy as we are. He smiles upon us and assures us that we are free. “All is forgiven. You have nothing to worry about. Go in peace.” But then we say, “Wait a minute, there’s something I forgot to mention. Something I did 20 years ago; and I just remembered. And by the way, I can’t seem to stop committing the same sin every week.” Question is: “Are we hard of hearing? Don’t we understand? The debt has been paid.” The Master does not accuse us, we are the ones who cannot let go of the past.
Since we have difficulty forgiving ourselves, we have difficulty forgiving others. Just like the servant in the story. He found the compassion of the master too good to be true. He knew that he was undeserving. His unworthiness gave rise to doubt. He thought, “Perhaps his master might change his mind.” He was given the opportunity to be compassionate to a fellow servant but he refused. We usually distrust in others what we distrust in ourselves. Obviously, the servant had cheated, stolen, embezzled his master’s goods. He projected his inadequacies on a fellow servant who owed him only a small amount. The punishment that was threatened upon him became a reality for the servant who was at his mercy. The discrepancy is obvious. We are forced to look at ourselves. It’s not fiction. The story is about us. God forgives us, over and over. Yet, we hold on to grudges. Doesn’t work! We must forgive as we want to be forgiven, or we can’t pray the “Our Father.” When we hold on to resentments, we hurt ourselves.
Forgiveness is an act of the will, like love. We want to reflect the forgiveness that we have received from the Master.