That We May Know Freedom – Fr. Tom Tank

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily September 13, 2020

“It’s obvious that our theme for our liturgy today is that of forgiveness that we are called to be people who experience forgiveness and also share forgiveness with others. That first reading today from Sirach is certainly a powerful one and it goes, ‘Wrath and anger are hateful things yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice then when you pray your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself and then receive pardon for his own sins?’ Powerful words that challenge us not to hold on to hurts or angers, but rather to allow forgiveness to permeate our own hearts and transform our lives and the same challenge of course is put in the Gospel today with that parable that Jesus gives. It started out with Peter saying, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive someone who offends me, my brother, seven times?’ and Peter thought he was being generous and Jesus said, ‘No seventy-seven times.’ and seventy is an infinite number. Seven is a complete number. Seventy is an infinite number in Jewish symbolism and so Jesus is saying that our forgiveness is without limit. It’s first of all that we experience forgiveness without limit and others deserve our forgiveness without limit that that is a challenge for us and I’m convinced that forgiveness is not just a human endeavor. It is truly a grace endeavor by God. It is one in which we need that grace of God to bring about healing and forgiveness within our lives. We all have experienced hurts. We’ve all experienced some pains. We’ve all experienced some difficulties within our life and I’m convinced that it’s only that grace of God that enables us to find healing to let go of those things to not nurture the hurt or the unforgiveness that we may be tempted to have and so we are challenged in that. I can say from my own life that it was really the grace of God that helped me through a very difficult time myself when I was seriously hurt, offended by someone whom I loved. It was my own father and I had some negative feelings so bad feelings, but for years I prayed for him and I sacrificed for him and I don’t know what good it did for him, but I know it transformed me. It changed my heart. It changed my attitude. It allowed me to be free and I think that’s one of the reasons that Jesus is so consistent in saying we need to forgive because when we forgive it’s not really for the sake of the other person it’s really for our own sake because unforgiveness ties us down. It binds us and Jesus wants us to have freedom, freedom from that negativity, freedom from anything that binds us down that holds us back from being the best that we can be. So often people have hurt. They’ve hurt us. We’ve hurt others. If we can find forgiveness, so often people unfortunately in closest relationships within marriage within family life we hold on rather than letting go. Jesus challenges us to truly be forgiving that we may know freedom. Even the message of Jesus on the cross, the first words of Jesu after he was crucified was, ‘Father forgive them. They know not what they do.’ Certainly Jesus was forgiving the Jewish leaders who had instigated his death, the Roman executioners who had carried out the deed, but I wonder if Jesus needed to forgive for his own sake as well in his humanity. He needed to let go of any pain that he had because of the injustice of others and we can say, ‘Yes, but Jesus was God.’ But how many people we see who can be so tremendously forgiving, people who experienced much greater hurts than I certainly ever have, people who have had a loved one killed by a drunk driver or someone who was murdered, lost a very precious one and yet could come out and say, ‘I forgive the perpetrator. I forgive the person that did it.’ I remember that instance a few years ago back in Pennsylvania there was an Amish school that was attacked by a man and he came in and he shot and killed like seven or eight children and it was interesting that that very night many of the members of the Amish community went to the family of the man who had perpetrated that crime that killing of their children and they went to console that family in the midst of their pain in the midst of their problem. What a sense of forgiveness. What a tremendous attitude of showing the love of God even in the most difficult of circumstances and situations. I don’t minimize the challenge of forgiveness, but it is a grace truly that comes from God. We need to pray for those for whom we have bad feelings and maybe we need to pray in reparations for our own failings as well, but we need to know that God’s grace is there because our God is a God of freedom, a God who wants us to be delivered from anything that binds us and he challenges us as we pray the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive us Lord as we forgive those who trespass against us.’”