There was a teacher who had each student bring in a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes. For every person they have not forgiven in their life, they were told to choose a potato, write on it the name and date, and put it into the plastic bag. After a while some of the bags, as you can imagine, were quite heavy. They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, and next to their desk at work. The hassle of lugging this around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually and how they had to pay attention to it, to not forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places. Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and while that’s true, it clearly is also a gift for ourselves. So the next time you decide you can’t forgive someone, ask yourself – isn’t my bag heavy enough?
Forgiveness. Today’s scriptures speak a message that I know I need to hear. I imagine that many of you probably need to hear it as well. And I’m reasonably certain that Christians all over the world need to hear it, too. “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers, “I say to you not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Today’s Gospel is a familiar one. A master forgives the debt of a servant, who then refuses to forgive the debt of one of this own servants. The master then withdraws his offer to forgive the debt, instead forcing him to be handed over to torturers (yes, that’s what it says) until he pays it back. The story ends with, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Strong words - and that should tell us something. I’m always struck by the fact that many of us Christians extol the truths and blessings of the Christian faith, considering it to be the “best,” for lack of a better word, and yet have the most difficulty embracing the very things that are at the heart of our faith, the things that in a certain sense make us different and unique compared to many other faiths. Selfless and unconditional love, identification with and compassion for the poor and outcasts of this world, detachment from material things, radical mercy and forgiveness – these are the hallmarks about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be a faithful Christian. And yet, these are often the things that cause us the most difficulty, the things we seem most reluctant to do, the life many of us are simply not willing to live. When I measure myself against that standard, I fall far short.
Extending this kind of radical forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we will ever be called to do. It takes a loving and generous heart. It takes a deep sense of our own need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. It takes a desire to not just believe certain things but to actually strive to pattern our lives after Jesus. And this sort of forgiveness is unconditional. It doesn’t depend on anything else done or not done by those who have wronged us.
Let’s make today a time for us to see where we need to be more forgiving – in our homes, in our extended families, at work, in our fractured society. And we don’t have to expect to make that tough journey in one fell swoop. We don’t have to do it all at once. Rather, let’s each of us take a baby step today – one small step in the right direction – and take another tomorrow, and so on. And never forget that somebody has already paid the price of forgiveness. Let’s allow the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus to empower us to share that same mercy and forgiveness with others, no matter how difficult it may be. Don’t let your bag of potatoes get too heavy!
If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.