Forgive, forgive, and forgive … again?
How many people have taught you how to forgive seventy times seven times? These are the ones who repeatedly -- sometimes seventy times in one day! -- give you opportunities to practice forgiveness. This method of learning the lesson of today's Gospel passage is not fun. But there's a reason why God allows it: These people need your gesture of mercy more than others do. In God's great concern for them, he has put them in your path. (Gee thanks God, but couldn't you have picked someone else?)
Such people are in desperate need of unconditional love; they've received less of it than we have, and that's why they behave so badly. In many cases, they have never received real love; their only experience of "love" is actually co-dependency or control or emotional bribery.
In some cases, disease, addiction, demonic oppression, or mental illness has robbed them of the ability to receive love when it is, in fact, given to them.
No one can give to us what they do not have. They can only give us what they do have, and sadly, that's grief -- and plenty of it!
We, on the other hand, can give them the forgiveness we've received from our loving Father -- the "king who settled accounts with his officials" in the parable. We know what love is, because we've opened ourselves to God's generous love, and therefore we have the responsibility of sharing it with those who have less.
They might assume that they know what love is, but they don't know how to recognize real, unconditional, Christ-like love, so we have to persist and forgive and persist and forgive until finally -- finally! -- our love breaks through the barricades of their hearts.
Then, when they slip back into their old ways, we forgive them again. Our persistence might be the only true connection to Jesus that they have.
However, we cannot succeed alone. Others are also needed, including counselors, doctors, or therapists. Sometimes God tells us that we've done enough and it's time to step away so that he can help them through someone else.
The process is long. We have to ask God to give us a supernatural love for these people. When we want to quit prematurely, we can look at Jesus hanging on the cross for us. He did not give up on us. If we truly want to follow him, we have to become like him. By uniting our sufferings to his cross, we are intimately united to his redemptive power.
Pray for those who are causing you pain; choose to forgive them. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. And we need to do it now, not when (or if) they repent. Jesus did not delay his walk to Calvary hoping that humankind would repent before he got nailed for our sins. As you follow him in the spirit of forgiveness, remember: After crucifixion there is always resurrection!