This Gospel today reminded me of words from the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa: “Sometimes, we must forgive in order to live.”
My friends, a total stranger can hurt us physically. Someone we love, a trusted friend, can injure us emotionally. Like most generalizations, it seems like an overstatement.
My guess is that we’ve all been hurt by a stranger, or someone we hardly knew. When we were children, perhaps other children left us out of their games. As adolescents, others may have laughed at us, for any reason. As adults, we may have been treated with contempt by a fellow worker or neighbor.
But the people who can hurt us the most are the people we love. Have you ever found out that someone you trusted lied to you? When that happens, it is not easy to get over. Trust that has been built up over years can be torn down in an hour. When we are used or abused by someone we love, it is a painful experience.
Jesus talks about it in today’s Gospel. He starts by saying, “If your brother or sister should commit some wrong against you.” And that’s what we’re talking about. When someone close to us hurts us, what should we do?
Jesus doesn’t give us a set of hard rules to be followed in detail. But He does give us some insight. First, He tells us not to nurse our hurts. They will pass and be forgotten, if we allow it. But it’s not that simple. Our tendency is to let them accumulate. We often add the hurts of yesterday to today. And before we know it, we end up carrying more than the human spirit can handle.
Life cannot be lived that way. We must let some things go. I once heard about a government office that requested permission to destroy some dead files. They were out of date, useless and taking up space. After a long delay, a reply came back from the central agency.
“Permission granted to destroy the files. But be sure to make copies of everything.” Do we have files like that in our lives? They serve no purpose. All they do is remind us of past wrongs, and they seem to occupy so much emotional space.
Then there is the flip side. Instead of burying our hurts, we talk about them to all who will listen. Jesus had this in mind when He said, “Keep it between the two of you.” A visit with the person who has done us wrong might help to heal the hurt. But sharing our grievance with everyone might cause greater damage.
When we hurt, it is usually not a great idea to suffer in silence. We may need to talk, but not to the whole world.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says, “If everything fails, treat the person like a Gentile or a tax collector.” In modern language it means, let them go.
If someone has hurt you or done you wrong, do not nurse it. Do not rehearse it. Make your best effort to make things right. If that does not work, let the person go. Never allow the attitudes or actions of another to poison your life.
But, always remember the words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them.”