As traditional wisdom has it (and many variations of pop psychology), we must forgive everybody who has wronged us if we are to be whole and complete people.
Yet we prayer in the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." This statement is a two-edged sword, for while we are begging God's forgiveness, we are also making it conditional on our own. This implies a connectivity between the way God forgives and the way we are to forgive.
The mere fact of asking for God's forgiveness for our sins guarantees, through the work of his son Jesus, that we will receive it. This is a key concept: we ask, God forgives.
And yet we hear from countless angles the notion that we must proactively offer forgiveness to those who do not seek it. In other words, we are counseled to forgive those who do not ask.
I am not proposing that we should hang on to our hurts and grudges and become writhing balls of self-pity and bound-up fury. On the contrary - it is in trying to give to him who does not wish to receive that we cause ourselves more anguish and strife.
So what are we called to do until the person who has wronged us seeks forgiveness? Matthew 18:15-17:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
So we are given this prescription from Jesus on how to resolve the hurt and anger we have all been through in our lives. God does not call us to be bitter; he calls us to be free, and he calls us to call our brothers and sisters to freedom too. For he who wronged you is bound up, as the next verse says:
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
If we hang on to our hurt, we are prolonging it, and we are preventing the fullness of harmony between God's people. This is at the heart of many shattered friendships, of countless family disputes, and even of the Church itself, fragmented into so many incomplete segments.
Now, if I approach one of my junior high bullies and ask him to apologize for the hurt he caused me and he refuses, and if I go through this process of bringing a witness and then involving the Church (maybe having a Mass said for him?) and he is still unrepentant, then am I permitted to hate him? Is that what Jesus means by treating him like a Gentile or a tax collector?
How did he himself treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He was a source of scandal to his community by dining with them, by beckoning them out of trees, and even by having mere conversations with them. In other words, if we are not able to obtain repentance and thus provide forgiveness, then we are to evangelize these people. This involves prayer, sacrifice, and displaying the love of God for them.
As the steamroller of time crawls across our lives, it's easy to believe that some things get buried and are impossible to uncover. Or perhaps we are fully aware of the ability to uncover our hurts but are reluctant, if only for the recurrence of pain it will bring us to meet with our victimizers.
Jesus seems to be calling us here to a difficult task, and yet it is a noble one which will transform our lives and renew our hearts.
Likely everybody who reads this can think of one person who must be reconciled with; a person who must apologize to you so you can forgive him. I sure can.
Time to Google his name and see where he's at.