“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Monday, September 12, 2016


An unforgiving spirit is corrosive to the soul. It can affect our relationships with others and how others relate to us. An unforgiving spirit darkens how we see the world and can even distort perceptions of reality. But most damaging of all, an unforgiving spirit affects human relationships with God.

When Jesus gave us his model prayer, he includes the phrase “And forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors.” At the end of it, Jesus gave further explanation saying, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6.14-15) A commentary in the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE (Oxford University Press) explains that the word debts is used metaphorically for sins, “debts” owed to God. 

Later in the Book of Matthew, Jesus was speaking to the disciples about sins of one person against another.  Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?  Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”  (See Matthew 18.21-22).  I have often wondered why Peter picked seven for the limit to forgiveness?  Apparently it is found in some older commentaries state that rabbis established that if an offender asked for forgiveness three times in the presence of witness he had to be forgiven.  Perhaps Peter picked seven as the perfect but limited number. Jesus’ answer was not merely a play on sevens or saying if someone sins against you or me seventy-eight times we need not forgive them for the last one.

A footnote in my Catholic Study Bible attached to this passage says that the seventy-seven times corresponds to Genenis 4.24 where Lamech boasts his extreme and limitless vengeance. Jesus reversed Lamech’s ancient, obscene and perversely proud boast, to demand of his disciples limitless forgiveness.  Then Jesus went on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven a large debt but refused to forgive others’ lesser debts.  In the parable, when the master discovers this he is enraged.  Jesus concludes his parable: “And his master was angry, and delivered him [the servant] to the torturer until he should pay back all that was due him. So my heavenly Father also will do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Forgiveness is an essential ingredient to being forgiven.  We see a couple of dynamics in this parable: There is great absurdity for a Christian who has been forgiven so much to withhold forgiveness from others. The Father’s forgiveness already granted may be reinstated if we do not forgive others.  We read again in the gospel of Mark, Jesus deals with the connection between receiving forgiveness and being forgiven, in context of prayer:

“When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25-26)

The forgiveness we receive from God is dependent on the forgiveness we give to people. It is a spiritual maxim that Christ did not want us to miss. So why do so many Christians miss it, including me? We hold grudges and savour them like a candy we roll around in our mouths. The damage we do to our own spirit in sweet bitterness exceeds the damage we wish or imagine for the other party.  Begrudging Christians should hang their heads to consider how often they expect God to forgive their sins (often the same sin committed time and time again).

There is a reciprocal aspect to Christianity. Yes, it is true that Jesus died for all and that God’s forgiveness is freely attained through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice at Calvary.  The free gift of salvation is only free to those who will accept it through faith and repentance.  A gift must be accepted and opened. The gift is the Truth of Jesus Christ.

The reciprocal part of forgiveness is forgiving. In as much as possible, God wants us to live in peace with others. We are called to greater heights that must not be weighed down by an unforgiving spirit or holding grudges. This is particularly true within the great family of Christians.  Just prior to his Passion, Christ said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for one another is a great witness to a world where wrongs are settled with violence and contempt. We are to love one another. Forgiveness is essential. 

If Jesus could ask forgiveness for the people who were crucifying him, then surely we as his followers can forgive those who hurt us!

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