When you believe you have finally overcome past hurts, forgiven those responsible, and moved forward in life, new challenges often arise, seemingly out of nowhere.
What hurts are you still harboring?
You might fall ill and question why God allowed it. Discovering your boss’ affair with your spouse can shatter your family, or learning that your child no longer acknowledges you as a parent can be devastating. The list of painful experiences requiring forgiveness seems infinite, and you likely have your own examples.
Keeping Christ’s commandment to forgive as God has forgiven us is never easy, nor is it something a man can say is a done deal. Just when you think you have forgiven the unforgivable and are making headway in your life as a disciple of Christ, some new egregious wound is inflected upon you. This is life as a disciple — it is filled with numerous challenges and is far from dull.
Our Lord’s commandment is to forgive all those who have hurt us. There are no exceptions or exclusions to this commandment. We don’t get time off for good behavior. Forgiving one person who hurt you in the course of your childhood does not exempt you from keeping this commandment for the remainder of your life. We are commanded to forgive all those who hurt us — when we are young as well as when we are old. There are no instances in which a disciple can opt out of keeping this commandment.
The stark reality for those of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ is that forgiveness is a challenge we must accept daily. We need to ask God for His grace to meet this challenge, but He will surely give it if only we ask!
It’s no accident that Our Lord taught the disciples to pray and taught them the Our Father. In this prayer, He included the line, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As God’s children, we believe He will forgive us if we humbly ask for His forgiveness. But how can we receive God’s forgiveness if we do not forgive those who hurt us? How strong is our faith if we don’t believe that broken relationships and hurt feelings cannot be restored by God?
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As disciples of Christ, we are challenged to believe that God’s love is big enough to rebuild broken lives, restore shattered relationships, and breathe new life into hopeless souls. If we truly believe that God can forgive us for our numerous sins, we must also believe that we can forgive those who hurt us.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter is depicted asking Our Lord to declare the limit of times a disciple is required to forgive. The passage says that Peter thought seven was a generous upper limit.
“Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times” Matthew 18:21–22.
“Parable of the Unforgiving Servant,” by Claude Vignon, 1629
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours
In a kind way, Jesus sets him straight. There is no limit to the number of times a disciple is required to forgive those who hurt them in the course of their lives. In Luke’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say pointedly to the Apostles, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful to you” Luke 6:36.
Keeping Christ’s commandment to forgive one’s enemies is one of those gospel mandates that separates the men from the boys. It’s not easy.
People readily recognize those individuals who hold onto grudges — those who only give lip service to forgiving one’s enemies. How many times have we caught one of these in-name-only Christians who talk a good game, but then when someone mentions someone who has crossed them, they let loose with a string of profanities? Their practice of the Faith is shallow.
It’s easy to know what Christ taught, but it’s much harder to actually live what Christ taught. It takes large doses of sanctifying grace to live as Christ taught and to follow in His footsteps.
Christ on the Cross forgave all of us who, by our sins, nailed Him to it. If we truly believe that Jesus can forgive us, then we must also believe and struggle to forgive all those who have hurt us and who will hurt us in the future. It’s not a small task, but it’s not a task that’s undoable.
Jesus, Who is God, has conquered death and sin! He who made the blind see, gave hearing to the deaf, and even raised the dead can certainly give us the grace needed in our lives to move beyond the betrayals and hurts of living in the fallen world. He can surely grant us the same grace and compassion that God has to forgive all those “who trespass against us.”
This Advent, take some time to reflect on how mature you are as a disciple. Are you keeping Christ’s commandment to forgive all your enemies, or do you just give this lip service? Now is the time to reconcile with all those who have hurt you. When you do, you’ll “[m]ake straight a pathway for the Lord” Isaiah 40: 3–5.