Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Forgiving someone seven times seems reasonable. Indeed forgiving someone seven times seems positively magnanimous, even saint-like if you will. Jesus’ reply must have startled Peter. Not seven times but seven times seventy-seven times.
Jesus was not giving Peter a specific number or setting limits on forgiveness. Rather, by using hyperbole he was indicating that forgiveness must be infinite. Jesus' hyperbolic reply is analogous to something most of us heard when we were kids and, for many, something swore we would never say upon becoming parents or uncles (but we do), “If I told you once I told you a thousand times.” Sometimes a thousand underestimated the real number but mostly it was hyperbole for effect.
The parable is chilling on two levels: The first is the servant’s callous behavior toward a fellow servant. The second is the punishment meted out to him when the master learns of his actions. One could ask why the master was not forgiving toward the wicked servant. It is a good question. Perhaps there are actions that are unforgivable. Or perhaps not. Our challenge is to forgive as God forgives. That is an ideal humans generally can’t attain except under radical circumstances. Those radical circumstances went on international display in 2006.
On 2 October 2006 Charles Roberts, IV entered the Amish one-room school house in Nickel Mines, PA. After sending all of the boys out he murdered five girls between the ages of nine and thirteen. He critically injured five others, one of whom is bedridden and severely brain-damaged. He killed himself when the police arrived. His actions horrified the world. The actions of the Amish community horrified much of the world even more. Roberts horrified the world by the brutality of his act. The Amish horrified the world by their forgiveness.
The grandfather of one of the murdered girls told young relatives on the day of the shooting, "We must not think evil of this man.” Another man noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God." Still another Amish man held the shooter’s sobbing father in his arms for an hour in an attempt comfort him. Thirty members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral.
Most of us are willing to forgive. Sometimes. Under certain circumstances. For a limited number of times. For some things. Jesus instructs us that seven times is not enough. Through the use of hyperbole or exaggeration Jesus is telling us we must always forgive. It is not an easy instruction to understand. It is not an easy instruction to accept. And yet, that is what God gives us. God offers us forgiveness even more heroic than the forgiveness the Amish extended to the man who killed and maimed their daughters. God offers us forgiveness every time we enter into and receive the sacrament of confession. We need only begin, “I confess that I have sinned.” And ask for pardon and forgiveness.
I still can't think about the Amish murders with any degree of equanimity. I put this up because I am preaching this homily tonight in Slovenian though, for the translator's sake, I shortened it a bit. One of the most impressive things the State of Pennsylvania did following the murders was to protect the Amish from interlopers, tourists, and, worst of all, photojournalists. The only photos of the days following the murders are of Amish on bikes or on foot going to the funerals. However, the roads to the area were blocked. During the funerals air space was closed through the use of police helicopters preventing airborne photography. This was before drones.
Yesterday was the first day of spring. A long afternoon walk was a necessity as was both cameras with different lenses. Stayed along the river all the way down to the biotechnology institute that is the turn-around point when I'm on a walk (no camera) as opposed to a stroll (with camera and many stope).
This building and restaurant always reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.
The biotechnology center. Grounds are restricted. The gray sets off the Crayola accents beautifully.
Looking from the shadow of the colonnade to the light of the setting sun on the Franciscan Church towers.
Looking downriver away from the center of the city. It is wonderful to be able to walk along this path in the dark and alone without anxiety or fear of assault or robbery. I would never walk along the Potomac in D.C. alone at dusk to say nothing of dark.
Relaxing at a cafe in the late afternoon.
Black and white is my favorite medium. I'm becoming fascinated with the interaction of light and glass.
A sense of humor evident at this steak house.
Two boys going home from school along the colonnade. Unaccompanied children is the rule not the exception here.
Rowers heading toward the city center.
The return trip.
Trta Pizzeria. Trta (tur--roll the r--tuh) means vine in Slovenian. Slovenian generally doesn't bother with vowels.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD