Through the parable of unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) our Lord Jesus Christ commands us to forgive in order to be forgiven. He gives us a vivid example so that we might recognize ourselves in it.
A certain king and master forgave his servant a huge debt and that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants… and took him by the throat.” (Matthew 18:28) He would not forgive him a debt that was a hundred times lesser than the one that had been forgiven him, but rather threw his fellow servant into a dungeon. When the king learned of this, he became angry, “and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
So my heavenly Father also will do to you, if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:34-35)
Forgiveness, especially forgiveness from the heart is a difficult journey. For most of us it is an impossible challenge. As with every journey, we have to start with the first steps. The Old Testament permitted “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Such were the times then, and for the Jews who were circled by enemies on all sides, this was the only way to survive. But our Lord who is longsuffering and all-merciful has moved the limits of forgiveness to infinity. “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
For us who are prone to arguments and who refuse to let go, this is a bitter medicine indeed, one that is almost impossible to administer. However, it is God Himself who has placed this goal of infinite forgiveness before us and as Christians it is our duty to at least attempt to reach that goal. For starters we might at least work on fulfilling the principle that has been in use for thousands of years, and refrain from breaking an entire jaw for one broken tooth. In other words, if we do not have the strength or the desire to forgive, then let us at least show some temperance and not return a hundredfold.
By His own example, the Lord shows us that it is possible to achieve what He asks of us. All those saints and God-pleasing men and women had forgiveness. We ought to practice this virtue as well, humble ourselves a little and give ourselves over to God.
As is the case with all sin, the essence of our revengefulness lies in our pride. Who does so-and-so think he is, talking to me like that! I’ll show him! I’ll teach him a lesson! And so we not only put ourselves in the judgment seat, but also in the role of the executioner, instead of leaving the carrying out of justice to the only Righteous Judge. This is the mechanism and the root of all the evil within and around us.
If only, when we indeed suffer injustice and mistreatment, we left everything to God – both the judgment and the execution of justice. For God remembers everything and never lets a debt go unpaid. But, as the Serbs sometimes put it, He does not collect debts every Saturday. Instead, He visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5). “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people” (Leviticus 19:18) are the words of the Prophet of God, Moses. And Solomon instructs us: “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29) and “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and He shall save thee.” (Proverbs 20:22) Christ who is Love Incarnate, started a new period and gave mankind new commandments, the supreme commandment being that of love. We Christians are commanded not to return evil with evil or an insult with an insult, but to bless in order to be blessed. (1 Peter 3:9)
“Do not be wise in your own opinion,” cautions St. Paul the Apostle (Romans 12:16) “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)
Apostle Paul also proposes a medicine which, if we took the trouble to administer, we would be able to change the world and we would prove its efficacy. We all ought to try this medicine: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
What we heard today is applicable to each individual, but should also be applied more broadly. Lately we have been witness to the unveiling of many mysteries of our Serbian suffering. Many truths which have been entangled in lies, the truth of how we were manipulated, expatriated, forcibly converted and slaughtered. All these realizations may make our blood boil and call us to vengeance. Even so, the Church must always call to repentance and forgiveness. It is much better to be a victim than an assassin. The coals of fire of which the apostle speaks are too painful for them. This is why their voices are so loud – they need to drown out the voice of their conscience.
The Lord who is longsuffering is calling us to forgive others so that He might forgive us when we cry out to Him to do so.