One of the scariest verses in the Bible has to be Matthew 6:15. It is right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus tells us: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father (in Heaven) forgive your transgressions.”
Now, this is not some obscure passage from one of those confusing Old Testament books that few people read and even fewer understand. This is from the New Testament, from the Lord Himself, and it is very, very plain and clear. He is telling us that in order for us to have our trespasses forgiven by God Almighty, we first need to forgive those people who have hurt and offended us.
Have you ever heard of “Irish Alzheimer’s”? It’s where you forget everything except the grudges. There’s a pretty powerful strain of that running through my extended family. I suppose you could change the ethnic origin and it still would apply to many different groups, for the truth is, holding grudges is not a distinctly Irish or Italian or Polish trait; it’s really a human trait.
It would be comical if it weren’t so sad. Odds are you have at least a couple people in your extended family who fit this description: they haven’t spoken to each other in years, and at this point no one even remembers for sure what exactly caused the problem. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that both parties are clinging to powerful grudges. They each are convinced that they alone were insulted and offended and they alone deserve an apology. And they damn well are not going to be the one who apologizes—since they of course didn’t do anything wrong. And they are damn well not going to take the first step to reconcile with the other person—because of course it was the other person who started the whole thing.
Oh, there is one other thing that everyone knows for sure. Everyone knows that when these two people happen to attend a family gathering at the same time, the level of tension and discomfort for all the other people present quickly becomes unbearable.
As Catholics, we know one of the key points of the Gospel message is that Jesus offers true forgiveness of sins. And as Catholics, we have the powerful Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession), where we can be absolved of our sins.
However, as Jesus makes very clear in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, if we do not forgive others, then God will not forgive us. Jesus was very clear that the amount of forgiveness we receive is in direct proportion to the amount of forgiveness we offer others. I suspect many of us, when our time on earth is done and we find ourselves standing before the great throne of judgment, will be quite shocked at what the Lord has to say to us. It will be even more unpleasant than one of those tense family gatherings.
While being tortured to death on the Cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Wow. If Jesus can forgive the people who put Him to death, don’t you think it might be possible, say, for Aunt Shirley to forgive Cousin Lenny, and vice versa? After all, we’re not talking about being nailed to a cross and killed. We’re talking about a single sarcastic comment that may or may not have been uttered 27 years ago.
If this could happen, it would mean the Lord truly offers His forgiveness. Also, it would mean those family gatherings actually might be enjoyable for a change.