St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Trinity XXII : Fr Tony Hogg

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We can always rely on Peter to get into the fray; that is one of the many 
reasons why he is one of my favourite saints. “How often should I forgive?” 
and feels he is being very generous when he thinks seven is more than enough. 
We can imagine him being flabbergasted when Jesus tells him seventy-seven 
times should just about do it!
This is because for Jesus forgiveness is not a quantifiable event. It is a quality: 
a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, a way of 
thinking and seeing. It is nothing less than the way of Christ. If we are to 
follow Christ then it must become our way.
Everyone, I suspect, is in favour of forgiving, at least in principle. C.S Lewis 
writes: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to 
forgive.” What do we do then? What do we do when there is something to forgive?
Some will strike back seeking revenge. Some will run away from life and 
relationships. Some will let the darkness paralyze them. The problem with any 
of those courses of action that we may have followed is that they still leave us 
in the past.
Forgiveness is the only way forward. This does not mean that we forget, 
condone, or approve of what was done. It does not mean that we ignore or 
excuse cruelty or injustice. It means that we are released from them. We look 
to the future rather than the past. We try to see and love as God sees and 
loves; we align our life with God’s life. To withhold forgiveness is to put 
ourselves in the place of God, the ultimate judge to whom all are accountable.
God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are linked. In the parable we hear
 the king forgives his slave an extraordinary amount. Ten thousand talents is 
about 3000 years of work at the ordinary daily wage. It seems there is no debt 
too large to be forgiven. This man, his debtor, was forgiven. That is what the 
kingdom of God is like. That is how God is. The salve, however, refused to 
forgive his fellow slave 100 denarii, about three months work. Too often that 
is what the world is like. In that refusal the forgiven slave lost his own 
This should not be news to us. We know it well. We acknowledge it every 
Sunday and I’ll bet most of us pray it every day. “Forgive us our trespasses as 
we forgive those who trespass against us. We pray those words with ease and 
familiarity but do we live our prayer? Do our actions support our request? 
“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
That’s a lot of forgiveness but the pain of the world, our nation, and 
individuals is great. We need to forgive as much for forgiving those who 
trespass against us is the salve that begins to heal all wounds. Because of that 
our lives will become more alive, more grace filled, more whole, more God-
like for having forgiven another.
So how do we begin to forgive? There is no easy road to forgiveness. Don’t let
 anyone tell you: “Just give it up to God. Forgive and forget.” Simplistic trite 
answers only demean those who suffer and pick at the wound. Forgiving 
anther takes time and work. It needs practice. It begins with recognition and 
thanksgiving that we have been forgiven. We are the beneficiaries of the 
crucified one. Hanging between two thieves he prayed, “Father forgive them.” 
That is the cry of ultimate forgiveness, a cry we are to echo in our own 
families, our work places, our parish, our day to day life.
Forgiveness does not originate in us. It begins with God. That’s what the slave 
who refused to forgive didn’t understand. It was not about him. It was about 
God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we 
already received. Then we chose again, and then again, and then yet again. 
And we chose because that’s the choice that God made. It is the choice 
too that Christ gives us when he tells us as he did Peter, “Not seven, but 
seventy times seven.” 


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