Imprisoned by Unforgiveness
I read a story about two friends who survived a Nazi concentration camp. One asked the other, “Have you forgiven the Nazis?” He replied that he had. The first reacted, “Well, I haven’t. I’m still consumed with hatred towards them.” “In that case,” responded the second man gently, “they still have you in prison.” One of the greatest gifts that Jesus brought to us is the power of forgiveness. It frees us to achieve the fullness of our humanity, which is achieved through union with Jesus Christ. To be in union with God we must repent and be forgiven by Him for our sins. Since one good turn deserves another, if we need God to forgive us our sins, so we must also forgive one another for our sinfulness against each other. Refusing to forgive dooms us to remain imprisoned by those who hurt us. Unforgiveness keeps us shackled to a hurtful past that robs us of a joyful present and a hopeful future. Forgiveness, on the other hand, frees us from the past to enjoy and live fully in the present with a bright future ahead. So why, then, do we hesitate or refuse to forgive? To err is human but to forgive is divine. The fact is that we can’t forgive without God’s grace.
In the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus because it was widely used by Jesus’ Church to teach morality, God clearly states, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet sinners hug them tight … Forgive your neighbour’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” (Sir 27:30-28:2) Why do we hug wrath and anger tight? We’re like the little boy who was sitting on a park bench in obvious pain. A man saw him and asked, “What’s wrong with you?” The boy answered, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee and it’s stinging me!” The man said, “Why don’t you stand up and get away from it?” The boy replied, “Well, by sitting here I think I’m hurting him more than he’s hurting me!” We hold on to anger because we think, foolishly, that somehow it punishes the one who hurt us. God gave us the emotion of anger to help us defend against those who hurt us, not to hold on to the hurt by refusing to forgive through seeking revenge or carrying a grudge. As human beings we should be the fittest of creatures since we carry grudges, run with gossip, and jump to conclusions. Forgiveness of others is essential if we want to be forgiven for our own sins.
Since God created us in His image and likeness, to be true to Him we must act like Him. Jesus shows us how to be and act like God. The psalmist reminds us, “He pardons all your iniquities, heals all our ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.” (Ps 103:3-4) To be in union with God and be happy we must pardon one another and heal each other’s ills. We must avoid what destroys life, like the poison of unforgiveness, and relate to each other kindly and compassionately. To achieve this we need God’s Spirit to prepare our spirit to do what’s right in His eyes rather than following our own distorted vision. Jesus’ Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, assures us of His help:“For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favour and to find help in time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16)
Jesus fully sympathizes with us, not to condone or excuse our weaknesses and sins but to help us to repent, forgive, and be forgiven. Jesus rose above His hurts through the power of forgiveness when, nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34) We must always be ready to forgive. Peter asked Jesus, “‘Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times?’ ‘No,’ said Jesus, ‘not seven times; I say, seventy times seven times.’” (Mt 18:21-22) Jesus then went on to tell the parable of the unmerciful servant whose huge debt was forgiven by his master. However, that servant refused to forgive a man who owed him a small debt. The master was angered at his lack of compassion and had him thrown into prison. His lack of forgiveness caused him to be imprisoned.
Most of our ills result from blind fear and anger. Unless we use them constructively they load us down with baggage that impede our growth as human beings. Jesus reminds us that “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” (Lk 8:50) We cope with anger through forgiveness. We receive the grace to forgive every time we seek God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should allow someone to continually hurt us. Forgiveness sometimes means we should put distance between ourselves and our abusers. Forgiveness frees and heals hurt, otherwise we’ll be miserable, stunted, and imprisoned in our unforgiveness. We mustn’t forget that only forgivers go to Heaven. (frsos)