BEWARE UNFORGIVENESS – 24th Sunday, Year A
The book of Sirach, one of the great wisdom and practical books of the Scriptures, teaches that “wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” If they are nourished, anger and wrath within the human heart are addictive and can enslave the one who fosters their growth.
The gospel teaching on forgiveness lived out, prevents us from letting injuries, wrongs and sins against us from going into unforgiveness, hatred and revenge, which places
one in a prison. When the addiction of hatred and unforgiveness takes a person over, many emotions become blocked. The injured person becomes obsessed with the injury and the one who inflicted it, creating a battle within, which can break forth in violent words and actions.
Like all addictions it’s better to prevent them in the first place. Anger which is nourished makes increasing demands, and produces bitterness, hatred, revenge and continually opens the original wound. Like lust, greed, pride, charitableness and harmful physical drugs, they cannot be allowed to grow and take over the human person.
The spirit of forgiveness, charity, patience, moderation, and acceptance needs to be cultivated as a protection against “hugging” and holding on to injuries. Just as the wise, spiritual person takes the necessary steps not to become enslaved to lust, greed, pride and harmful drugs, so too the “drug” of anger and wrath is avoided.
The Christian decides to forgive before an offense takes place, and does not allow unjust anger to take root. The emotion of anger, which is not denied, and where necessary, is expressed in a way that protects both the one who inflicts the injury and one’s self.
This is done through recalling one’s own offenses towards others, the Lord, and one’s self, which have been forgiven, or need to be forgiven. “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then, when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
One of the Fathers of the Church, St. Bernard I believe, told his brothers when another brother makes them suffer unjustly, to think of some sin they committed for which they were not punished, and accept the unjust punishment as something they deserved, but didn’t receive. Sirach recommends thinking about our “last days…remember death and decay, and cease from sin”. He further teaches us: “Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults”.
We can recall God’s mercy toward our self. “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Unforgiveness, anger, wrath, and revenge can destroy someone’s health creating depression, heart disease, and mental sickness. There are some doctors who think some cancers can be generated by an unforgiving spirit. Many spiritual writers as well as doctors see a connection between an unforgiving spirit and the inability to be healed or get well. Most in the healing ministry see people healed when they forgive either themselves or someone who has injured them. “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”
The emotion of anger, like all the other emotions, is good when directed rightly. The power of anger is to be directed to the works of justice, and not hatred and revenge.
Like all the teachings of Jesus, the one on forgiveness is life giving. The addiction of carrying around, reliving and fostering revenge and unforgiveness is too heavy a price to pay. “Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” “No”, Jesus replied, “Not seven times: I say, seventy times seven.” That means an indefinite number of times, which is the number we may have injured, and the number of sins we may have been forgiven!
Jesus concluded His parable about the official who wouldn’t forgive his fellow servant a small amount compared to what he had been forgiven. He was handed over to pay. “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”