At the end of a Friday morning Latin class when I was a seminarian, a seminarian sitting a few rows behind me raised his hand and asked the professor, "Father, did you mean not to assign us homework for the weekend or did you just forget?" I whipped my head around so quickly in disbelief that I am surprised my head didn't snap off.
I always think of that moment when I read the Gospel passage about Peter asking Jesus, "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother?" We could have been fine, but Peter had to show off and raise his hand at the end of class. Something in me wants to give Peter a dirty look and say, "Nice going, Peter. Now we all have to forgive people seventy times seven times." He didn't just ruin the weekend with Latin homework. No, this is a life-long homework assignment.
Forgiveness is a tough one. Any priest who regularly hears confessions will tell you that a big source of difficulty for many people is forgiving those who have harmed them. And sometimes, even when we think we have forgiven someone who injured us, it sneaks back up on us. Maybe as we are drifting off to sleep, we remember their pettiness, their harshness, or their outright hostility towards us and we suddenly realize that we need to forgive again. Sometimes I find it even happens when I'm praying. Maybe I'm reading this very gospel about forgiveness and suddenly my mind is beginning to relive the injuries of the past.
If our starting point is how we have been injured by others, it is a bit of a dead end. In a way, this was Peter's starting point. He begins with how many times his brother has injured him and how many times he must forgive that brother. Jesus, however, begins with how many times I have injured God and how God responds to those injuries. Jesus says that God forgave the entire debt. In this way, we are reminded that we were once weighed down by an impossible debt, but God lifted that debt and set us free. If we have any hope of dealing mercifully with others, we must begin with our own experience of being forgiven. We must live out of our own experience of being a person who has been treated mercifully.
If we look at Peter's question from the side of "how much do I have to forgive," it really becomes an impossible moralistic homework assignment. But when we look at it from the perspective of, "God has forgiven all of my impossible debts and asks me to reflect a little of that same mercy towards those who owe me much less than I owe God," it becomes a source of joy and freedom.
God has forgiven me so much in my life. He asks me to show a little of that same mercy towards those who owe me far less. I suppose we all owe Peter our gratitude. His question reminds us that we have been forgiven and that we can be set free from our own pettiness. Today let us recall all that we've been forgiven and ask the grace to forgive others.