The gospels provide ample evidence of the need for forgiveness in our lives: God’s forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others.  Two scripture passages in particular help in focusing on the latter.  In the book of Sirach we read: “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.  Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the Lord?”
(Sirach  27: 30; 28: 1-7)

In Matthew’s (18: 21-35) gospel we find Peter asking Jesus how often one must forgive.  Jesus’ answer included the parable of the unforgiving servant.  In that passage two things stand out very clearly.  First, we are not to put a number on our forgiveness.  There is no limit set on the times we may have to forgive.  When Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive?” Jesus replied, “Not seven but seventy times seven.”  Seven had always been thought of as a quasi-magical number.  Seventy times seven then would seem to mean an unlimited number.

Secondly, the parable shows it is clearly in one’s self-interest to be for-giving.  If we are incapable of forgiving we will be incapable of receiving forgiveness.  That’s what the story of the unforgiving servant is all about.  When he refused forgiveness to his fellow servant he forfeited the forgive-ness he needed from his master.

We all need to be forgiving because we have all suffered hurts.  Hurts which give rise to anger, even to hatred, and which place upon us the burden of forgiveness.  Hurts come in all sizes and shapes.  Some hurts are small and relatively easy to forgive.  In fact, such hurts do not even

require forgiveness in the full sense of the word.  Ideally we should be able to just brush them off like a pesky fly which is more annoying than
truly hurtful.  Some hurts, however, are very big and very difficult to forgive and impossible to forget.

No matter what the hurt, forgiving is never easy, never something that comes naturally.  In fact, forgiving can seem almost unnatural. Fairness requires people should pay for any wrong they do, for any hurt they inflict. Yet without forgiveness, without the special kind of healing true forgiveness represents, our lives would be plagued with a special kind of unhappiness.

It can help to remember there is a certain tension between mercy and justice.  Without justice and fairness mercy/forgiveness degenerates into permissiveness; justice without mercy hardens into cruelty.  Helpful, too,
is this advice: Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.

That old phrase “forgive and forget” is misleading.  There is a story about a husband and wife that illustrates that.  It seems the husband had done something wrong, something that had offended his wife.  Long afterwards she kept throwing the incident up to him.  Finally, he said, “I thought you said you forgave and forgot.”  She replied, ‘I did.  I just don’t want you to forget I forgave and forgot.”

Some people think if they can’t forget they haven’t truly forgiven.  That can’t be right.  How can anyone forget a truly serious hurt?  If you truly and literally forgot an offense you would no longer know what you forgave. It would be like saying, “I forgive so-and-so but I don’t know why.”

There is a story that can help in this regard.  According to the story Clara Barton, foundress of the Red Cross in America, was reminded by a friend of a very cruel thing someone had done to her. Clara seemed not to remember the incident.  The friend insisted, “Surely you remember how terribly unfair that was.  “No,” Clara replied, “I distinctly remember for-getting that.” If the story is true, it is a good one.  If it is not true, it is    even better because it should have happened.

It seems what Clara meant by “forgetting” was really remembering but without any rancor or hatred.  Basically that is what forgiving demands, not harboring and hard feelings or hatred, not wishing harm on someone who has hurt us, not seeking revenge, but to wish that person well in spite of the offense.  That is what the gospel demands of us.