As I write this on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, I am struck by the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday:
Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, `Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Like so many others, I struggle with this whole forgiveness thing, especially on a day like today. There are many ways to dance around the reading—It’s talking about forgiving “another member of the church,” or forgiving my “brother and sister,” or it’s talking about forgiving “from [my] heart,” not necessarily in my actions. The story is talking about debts, not about grievous wrongs committed against me. How many times compares to seventy-seven times?—but, in the end, I am called to love, even to love my enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) This is hard work . . . especially on a day like today.
I take some solace from the book I read during Lent this year, A Season for the Spirit, by Martin Smith:
[I]t is hard to deny the ancient insight that everything human can be found within one’s own heart. . . .
. . . The Spirit will bring the selves of the self into a unity around the center of the indwelling Christ. The New Self will be a kind of inner community based on the principle of love in which there is room for everyone. . . .
. . . Spirit of love . . . Now I begin to see that the spiritual life is based on a basic honesty which enables me to recognize that everything I find difficult to accept, bless, forgive, and appreciate in others is actually present within myself. If I paid attention to my own heart I would hear from within many voices, expressing many needs. Perhaps that suspect old saying “charity begins at home” begins to make sense here. Could it be that I have so little charity towards others because I have so little for the many selves of myself?
Rather than looking outward, especially on a day like today, perhaps I need to look within.