Sunday, March 03 2024

Forgiveness: Hollow Rhetoric or a Blessed Way of Christian Life?

The inability to forgive is one of the most dangerous spiritual diseases with which a person can ever be afflicted. It is one of the most widespread problems among our families, communities, and generally speaking, in our society as well. This thought likely was the motivation behind the Lord Jesus Christ’s efforts to address this problem many times in His divine teachings. The parable of the Ten Thousand Talents (or the Wicked Servant) is one of the most profound teachings on forgiveness, and is only one incident out of the many that the Lord used to elaborate on this topic.     

The teachings summarized by this parable are too profound to be fully grasped in a short period of time; moreover, they cannot be completely exhausted in a sermon or an article. Therefore, I would like to limit this discussion only to a few points, hoping to offer a little help for a better understanding of such an important commandment of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

One of the striking details in this parable is the behavior of the wicked servant who owed the ten thousand talents. Immediately after being forgiven that huge debt, he met another servant who owed him a very insignificant amount of money, and instead of feeling some compassion for the other servant, he –without delay– threw him in jail, punishing that man’s inability to fulfill the debt according to the first servant’s terms (Matthew 18:28-31).

The behavior of this first servant is certainly worthy of close examination. What was the motivation that provoked him to behave in such a cruel way? What made him hold from his fellow servant the fruits of his joy, the feeling of relief after being forgiven his unfathomable debt? What prevented him from imitating the noble behavior of the King, or at least giving his fellow servant the extension he asked for?

There is a wide variety of speculations as to why he behaved in such unforgiving way. But I think almost everyone will agree that the first servant was an extremely selfish, egocentric, ungrateful, and insensitive person. In these negative adjectives, separately or collectively, are found some of the causes that bring about the problems of anger and vindictiveness, which pollute our souls and turn people’s hearts into hard stone, preventing them from showing compassion on those who may have caused them pain but then also sought a way to correct their wrongdoings. 

The first servant represents the image of at least most of us, who through compunction and tears gain mercy and forgiveness from God for our sins but cannot easily overcome our wounded feelings toward others to render forgiveness and mercy to them. This is a very harmful spiritual disease which afflicts our souls with septic injuries that can lead us to spiritual death if the proper treatment is not provided.

The Lord wants peace and serenity to prevail in our hearts and lives. Therefore, He commanded us that, in case we have caused any hurt to others or if we lost our peace with others, to suspend our gifts to Him at the footstep of the altar until we reconcile with them, and then to resume with our gift: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24).

It is an instruction from God that makes it our duty to forgive those who trespass against us. The Lord Jesus Christ concluded this parable with an explanation on how God the Father grants us forgiveness, adding to it a very firm warning that if we do not forgive our brethren their trespasses from our hearts, neither will God forgive us our trespasses (Matthew 18:35). We need to forgive those who sin against us, so He will forgive us our sins against Him. We are debtors in front of God. We owe Him tens of thousands of sins, which we commit every time we disobey any of His commandments, we do not fulfill our duties as we are supposed to, our actions are not in harmony with His divine will, our desires are evil, our words are inappropriate- and the list can go on endlessly. It is impossible to successfully defend ourselves in front of God; as the Scriptures said, “If You should mark iniquities, Lord, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You” (Psalm 129/130:3-4). We can only ask for His mercy. Therefore, in order to receive mercy we have to render mercy, as the Lord Himself said.

Forgiveness is not only a promise that we give to God every time we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:11-12). It is also a declaration that we are sinners. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Holding back our forgiveness is self-deception and pride, because it means that we insist on denying that we are sinners.

Forgiveness is an attribute of God, and being a forgiving person is an attribute of God’s children, as well as the fulfillment of our divine call- to become like our Heavenly Father. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as our God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 4:32-5:1). “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Forgiveness was the example that the Lord Himself gave us first, while He was on the Cross, wanting us to make it a reality in our own lives. Before He gave up His spirit on the Cross, He uttered the deepest and most touching words in history, forgiving the people who put Him to unjust death (Luke 23:34). This is also the example that unknown numbers of His saints implemented in their own lives, showing love toward their persecutors, starting from the first martyr in Christian history, Saint Stephen the Archdeacon, all the way until today.

Feeding our desire to take revenge or continue to hate those who sin against us and refusing to forgive them is a very foolish investment in the fund of our eternal life. This type of behavior will bring judgment on us and make us unworthy of Holy Communion and the rest of the gifts–visible and invisible– that God showers on us every day because of His abundant mercy.