“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Mt 18,21) Peter asked this question to Christ. Peter was actually being very gracious by suggesting that one should forgive seven times. But Christ went beyond all that. “Not only seven times, but seventy-seven times,” which actually means always!
Christ wants us to be forgiving always as he himself has been and will always be forgiving to all of us. If we understand our humanity as being patterned after Christ, then we have to realize that like Christ, we have to be forgiving always. Even if some offenders of ours have not yet asked forgiveness from us, like Christ just before he died on the cross, we should offer forgiveness to them.
We have to remember that we can only be forgiven of our sins if we also forgive others of theirs. Christ made this point clear when he said, “Forgive and you shall be forgiven.” (Lk 6,37) He reiterated this injunction when he said: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Mt 6,14-15)
It’s clear therefore that we can only be forgiven if we also forgive others. This injunction is meant for everyone, and not only for a few whom we may consider to be religiously inclined. That’s why when asked how many times we should forgive, he said not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning always.
That’s also why he easily forgave the woman caught in adultery. And to those whom he cured of their illnesses, it was actually the forgiveness of their sins that he was more interested in.
To top it all, Christ allowed himself to die on the cross as a way to forgive all of our sins, and to convert our sins through his resurrection as a way to our own redemption. What he did for us he also expects, nay, commands that we also do for everybody else.
If Christ can offer forgiveness to those who crucified him—and there can be no worse evil than killing Christ who is God—why do we find it hard to offer forgiveness to others?
All of us sin one way or another. The awareness of this truth is not meant to depress us but rather to keep us humble and always feeling in need of God. We should be wary when we would just depend solely on our own resources to tackle this predicament. We need God.
The awareness of this truth should also help us to develop the attitude to forgive one another as quickly as possible, since that is the only way we can be forgiven. When we find it hard to forgive others, it is a clear sign that we are full of ourselves, are self-righteous, proud and vain. It is a clear sign that we are not yet with Christ.
We have to continually check on our attitude towards others because today’s dominant culture is filled precisely by the viruses of self-righteousness, that feeling that we are superior to others, etc. These viruses make it hard for us to be forgiving to others. We have to do constant battle against that culture.
We have to be forgiving always because at the end of the day, no matter what sins and offenses we commit, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, obliged to love one another. And forgiveness is the ultimate sign of love.*