To forgive other people is one of the most difficult things any of us will have to do.  If perhaps you don’t know that, it can only mean that you have never tried it.  Perhaps you’ve never been faced with that necessity.  Maybe your heart has never been broken.  Maybe you’ve never been cheated, or lied to, or insulted.  Maybe you’ve never suffered physical or psychological injury at the hands of careless, or worse yet, malicious people.

If nothing like that has ever happened to you, let me assure you that you should be grateful; but you should also be prepared, because sooner or later it will.  We live in a hostile world.  Our lives are all intertwined with the lives of others.  What one person is or does inevitably touches the lives of many other people.  And it’s a virtual impossibility for anyone to get through life without hurting someone else and being hurt by someone else. 

So, when that happens, what ought we to do?  How should we handle it?  Well, it seems to me that our  options are really quite limited.  We will do one of two things.  We can forgive it, forget it, and leave it behind us; or we can turn our heart into a bundle of resentment and carry it with us every day.  Those are the only possibilities with no middle ground.  We will do one or the other. 

In the Gospel, Jesus was once asked, “When my brother wrongs me, how often should I forgive him?  Seven times?”  Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  In other words, Jesus tells us it must be every time. 

Then Jesus closed the teaching by saying, “My heavenly Father will do the same to you unless each of you forgives his brother from your heart.”  Underline that phrase, ‘from your heart,’ because it’s the key to the entire lesson.  Jesus is saying that forgiveness is not some sort of impersonal, legal transaction where you count the times and keep score.  It’s a matter of the heart.  It’s not so much something we do as something we are.  Our entire approach to life as Christians is not resentment but reconciliation.  When forgiveness flows from our heart, then we have become a          forgiving person.

Most of us, I fear, have a rather shallow concept of what it means to be forgiven.  We tend to think of it in a casual and off-handed way.

There is much more to it than that.  At the heart of God’s forgiving grace stands a cross, and there is nothing light-hearted and casual about Calvary.  God cared very deeply about the quality of our lives; and when one cares, then forgiveness can never be a casual experience.  If we would remember that, we might find ourselves more willing to forgive those who have hurt us.

An unforgiving spirit creates a prison of its own.  It builds high walls of bitterness and resentment, and there is no escape until and unless we learn to forgive.  Life can never be a beautiful experience if we lock ourselves in a little cell of resentment and hatred. 

Jesus encourages us to open up our hearts.  Reach out to other people.  In this Lenten season you ought to become a forgiving person.