Willing to forgive Sir 27:30—28:7; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35 “How many times must I forgive?” Jesus’ words about forgiveness in today’s Gospel played a significant role in solving a serious problem in the life of the early church. Rome and its emperors considered Christians to be enemies of the state and of good social order because Christians refused to participate in Roman civil religion. Rome punished them accordingly. The annals of church history are filled with stories of courageous martyrs who died horrible deaths because they remained committed to Christ. But not all Christians were so courageous. Overcome by fear, some Christians denied Christ, burnt incense to the gods of Rome and joined other Romans in honoring the emperor as a god. Still, many were good people who repented and asked God and the Christian community for forgiveness. Some Christians refused to forgive those whose faith was weak while others favored readmitting those whose courage failed them back into the Christian community. Finally, after considerable debate among the leaders of the community, Pope St. Stephen I offered God’s forgiveness to those who lapsed and readmitted them to the community of faith. He did so in obedience to the word of Christ. The pope recognized that every Christian is forgiven by God. Every Christian stands in need of God’s forgiveness. We recognize that forgiveness is the glue that keeps the Christian community responsive to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We all say and do things that we regret. We hurt each other, but forgiveness keeps our relationship from disintegrating. We have to seek forgiveness and we have to offer forgiveness, although it is not always easy to do. The reading from Sirach warns of the consequences from our failure to seek and to grant forgiveness: “Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir 28:4). That is the point of the parable of the unforgiving servant in today’s Gospel. The forgiveness that we have received as a gift from God requires us to forgive one another. The history of our country testifies to the consequences of the failure to seek and offer forgiveness. Forgiveness starts with speaking the truth that leads to asking for forgiveness. Then, and only then, can genuine forgiveness be offered and received. We are still living with the consequences of this failure to ask for and receive forgiveness. In today’s second reading, Paul provides a theological foundation for the offering and receiving of forgiveness that are central to an authentic Christian life. In his succinct and lyrical description of the Christian life, the apostle asserts that Christians do not live by themselves or for themselves. Authentic Christians live in relation to the living Christ and therefore in relation to other believers who likewise live in Christ. This mutuality continues only because of the forgiveness that Christ always offers us whenever we ask and the forgiveness that we, in turn, offer whenever we are asked by our sisters and brothers in Christ. On a practical level, the Gospel call to forgive is hard for many of us. We hold onto our hurts, grudges and hatreds as if they were a most precious commodity. But forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle of hatred, animosity and violence. Unless we are willing to break this cycle, we have little hope that the people of the world will be blessed by peace. Instead, we will see our young people drowning in a whirlpool of hatred. Today’s Scriptures warn us of the consequences of our unwillingness to forgive.