In every family there is a at least one story of unforgiveness. One of those stories happened many years ago in my family on Christmas night. The family had gathered at the home of my Grandparents on the East Bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. That night there was a terrible storm. My Great Aunt was still at home in Algiers which is across the Mississippi River. My Grandmother told my Grandfather that he could not drive across the bridge to pick up my Aunt since the storm was so fierce. That decision caused an ongoing division between the two sisters that lasted some forty years. Each sister brought the rest of the family into their battle. Neither was able to forgive the other and they were only able to sit down together at the same table once my Grandmother had lost her mental faculties. The story shows the importance of forgiveness.
In our first reading, God calls Ezequiel to dissuade the wicked from their evil ways. God has called the prophet to call the people to turn from idolatry and injustice against the poor. If the prophet is not willing to honestly speak God’s word to the people, then he will be held responsible for the death of the wicked. The prophet offers the people the opportunity to repent and receive new life. Though difficult, challenging the people to turn from sin is an act of love.
Today’s Gospel deals with how one who has sinned is reconciled both with the one he has hurt and with the Christian community. The person who has sinned is called to recognition of sin and repentance. The goal is not condemnation but restoration.
Central to the Gospel is the truth that Christ gives up on no one and we should not either. Just as the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep in the wasteland and searched for the one lost sheep so Christ gives up on no one.
Jesus presents a three-step process in reintegrating a brother/sister back into the community. First, the one who is hurt is to go to the brother/sister who hurt him and tell that person his/her fault. If he/she listens he will have won over his brother/sister.
If the brother/sister does not listen the one who was hurt is to summon one or two others so that the case can stand on the word of two or three witnesses.
If he ignores even them, the one who has sinned is to be brought to the church and if he/she ignores even the church then he/she is to be treated as a Gentile or tax collector. Gentiles and tax collectors were shunned by the Jewish people.
If the brother-sister does not listen even to the Church he is to be cut off from your life. Since some lack the ability or willingness to apologize for legitimate sin, we must be careful how we apply this to our personal and family relationships. We must be careful who we cut out of our lives. There is a value in remaining in relationships with others even if the relationship and individual are imperfect.
When another hurts us we are called to first forgive. This forgiveness is as much for us as for the other person. Forgiveness allows us to be freed of the anger and hurt. Forgiveness also allows us to let go of the pain that we hold onto when we are not willing to forgive. People sometimes hold anger and resentment inside for years which is shown in their own unhappiness.
In some cases, we can let the other person know that we value our relationship with them and how their action makes us feel. Today’s Gospel shows the power of open and assertive communication and that open communication can lead to a healing in relationships. Hopefully, this open relationship will lead to the development of a new relationship.
A good friend of mine, Fr. Brian Joyce, wrote a homily that he entitled The Ten Commandments of Forgiveness. In this homily he indicated that forgiveness is not easy, that forgiveness is not overlooking evil and that forgiveness does not mean allowing another to continue hurtful or abusive behavior. Forgiveness is allowing the person who has hurt us to begin again. Forgiving another shows that the person who has hurt us is greater than their faults and wrongdoings.
At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Through these words, Jesus gives the church the power to forgive sins. Sins are forgiven through the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation. May we not only find ways to reconcile with others through our words but may we also take advantage of these Sacraments of forgiveness and healing.