Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, in life there will be occasions for stumbling. This is not a comforting message Jesus gives us. But he is one of us and knows us better than we know ourselves.
Sin is part of our human experience. We all need forgiveness. This is echoed in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each who is in debt to us.”
And we have a prayer, simple in its clarity, a clear cry to Jesus to forgive us: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Jesus gives this somber warning to his disciples, and to us: “Be on your guard.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a life of faith and grace. Living up to that calling, with all our human frailties, it seems to me is a struggle, especially to forgive and be forgiven.
Jesus expands the ancient Hebrew tradition that one is obliged to forgive only three times. He tells his disciples to what extent they must forgive: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, if there is repentance, you must forgive. If that same person sins against you seven times and seven times says I repent, you must forgive.”
In Matthew’s gospel, when Peter asks Jesus how often should we forgive, “As many as seven times seven?” Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” Jesus’ answer reveals how important the act of forgiving is to our spiritual life.
As sinners, with faith, we can confidently trust in God’s mercy. When we confess our sins against God and our neighbor, we ask God to forgive us. With trust, conviction, and repentance I believe God will forgive again and again and again. That’s the message I see in Jesus’ answer to Peter. This is a comfort to us in our human weaknesses when we fail to live up to commitments and promises made.
I know from my own experience having been forgiven for hurtful words and acts toward ones whom I love and care for deeply. Their forgiveness healed the wounds in my soul and restored my distressed spirit.
The disciples in the face of their sense of inadequacy to live up to Jesus’ expectations ask Jesus to increase their faith. We know with our own inadequacies we cannot live up to Jesus’ expectations without prayer and reflection, without the help of God’s Spirit abiding within us.
In Luke’s gospel Jesus sees the faith of those who brought the paralytic, lowering him through the roof. Because of their faith, he forgives the man’s sins. Jesus connects faith with forgiveness, a restoration of spiritual health.
We too ask Jesus to increase our faith for the grace to follow his command to forgive others, and ourselves. Jesus affirms forgiving deepens our faith and leads to a healthier spiritual life.
Growth in our spiritual life won’t result from anxious and driven behavior. It will come in the quiet moments, in the many small acts of love and service. It will come in acts of faith and forgiveness.
Only with faith and trust in God’s Word can we access the mystery of God’s mercy and justice, God’s transcendence and presence. In Jesus’ life and ministry, he presents to us a loving, forgiving, compassionate God who initiates and sustains our relationship with him.
Most of all our spiritual health will come from what we give in love and forgiveness. And the mystery is that all this weaves a pattern of life that becomes the true expression of our life in Christ.
It makes us what we want to be: imitators of Christ.