READINGS: Sirach 27:30 – 28:7/ Romans 14:7-9/ Matthew 18:21-35
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A story or news item that went viral on social media a few years ago was about one Sylvester Ofori, a 35-year old Ghanaian, who was the Head Pastor of Floodgates of Heaven International Ministries, in Florida, USA. Pastor Ofori had thousands of followers, with about 60,000 followers on his Facebook account. He and his 27-year wife, Barbara, were going through a divorce process less than 5 years after their wedding. Not willing to forgive the wife, Pastor Ofori went to her place of work one morning and shot her dead (cf. https://www.graphic.com.gh/international/international-news/florida-church-devastated-after-ghanaian-pastor-shoots-wife-dead-at-work.html).
Whatever was the cause of the misunderstanding between the couple, genuine forgiveness would have made a big difference. An offence often creates anger and the feeling of revenge. To forgive, then means ‘to stop feeling angry with somebody who has done something to harm, annoy or upset you’ (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
An offence creates a gap or valley between people; and as long as the offence is not forgiven the gap or valley remains. Now, as a small gap or crack in a wall or a natural valley can widen with time, so the valley of un-forgiveness can get worse with time. This is obvious in the sad story of Pastor Ofori and his dead wife.
Un-forgiveness maintains a valley not only between us and our offender, but between us and God as well. On the other hand, when we forgive, a bridge is created not only between us and our offender but the gap between us and God is also bridged. Hence, today’s first reading, admonishes us: ‘Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray’ (Sirach 28:2).
Our Lord Jesus Christ makes the same point at the end of His parable about the ungrateful unforgiving servant: ‘So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart’ (Matt. 18:35). Therefore, beloved, let us forgive one another to build and maintain the bridge between us and God as well as our neighbors.
As we know, no community that has the resources to reconstruct its vital bridge as often as it is damaged by floods will neglect doing so. Similarly, as often as we are offended, we have to forgive – thereby, reconstructing our spiritual and emotional bridge. Hence, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that such forgiveness should not be just once, twice, three, or even seven times as Peter proposed, but as often as we are offended (cf. Matt. 18:21-22). Now, as a resourceful community will eventually build a better bridge to withstand its perennial floods, so we have to think of better ways of building our spiritual and emotional bridges.
Furthermore, just as a physical bridge is built not all at once but step by step – planning it and starting the construction with the first material (e.g. block or wood) – so the bridge of forgiveness begins with a first step. Thus, Edward M. Kennedy says: ‘It takes two to make a lasting peace, but it only takes one to make the first step’. So, I hope today each of us will be the person who takes the first step towards reconciliation with the brother or sister who has hurt him or her (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). The first step is to decide to forgive the offender and approach him or her to talk about reconciliation.
Probably we are saying that: ‘I want to forgive, but I am still hurting’. In that case, let us remember that Jesus forgave us while He was still experiencing the pain on the cross. So, let us seek God’s grace to enable us take the first step if we are still hurting. In 1902, in Italy, there was an 11-year old girl called Maria Goretti. A 19-year old man attempted raping her and when the innocent girl, Maria Goretti, resisted, the man stabbed her. When she heard (on her sick bed) that the man had been imprisoned, she said: ‘May God forgive him! I want him in heaven’. And if St. Maria Goretti’s story seems a century too old, let us recall that St. John Paul II visited and forgave the man who shot him.
Finally, beloved, May the Lord grant us the grace to forgive, so that we build an eternal bridge with Him and our neighbors. Amen!
By Most Rev. John Kobina Louis