Does it make sense to listen to Jesus? The teachings of Jesus, most often than not, seem to go against what we may consider human logic or human reasoning. His teachings sometimes require us to abandon human logic.
Many times, when we think of the disciples, who answered the call from Jesus, we easily think about the material things they gave up. They gave up their boats, their fishing nets, their occupations, and even their families. One thing they gave up, which we do not mention enough is their point of view, which I think, is even more difficult to give up than their material possessions.
On Thursday, two weeks ago at Mass, the Gospel passage shared the story of Simon Peter and some of the other disciples, who worked hard all night throwing their nets in search of fish but caught nothing. Jesus came around used Peter’s boat as the pulpit from where he preached and taught the crowd at the shore. At the end of his preaching, Jesus instructed Peter to lower his net into the water to catch fish. Peter replied, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”
The instruction of Jesus to Simon Peter seemed to make no sense on many grounds. Come to think of it, Jesus was a carpenter by trade. I do not recall any mention of Jesus fishing. His foster father, Joseph, was a carpenter, and as it was common at that time, he must have passed on the trade to Jesus. Simon Peter on the other hand was a professional fisherman. Yet, the carpenter came to give the professional fisherman some professional advice on fishing. Peter and his men had labored all night, the best time to fish, but they caught nothing. Then the carpenter came and advised them to throw the nets when the sun was out, a bad time to fish. If they caught nothing at night when it was most conducive to fish, how would they catch any fish in the day time when it was easier for the fish to see them and hide from them?
Even though the instruction of Jesus made no sense to a professional fisherman, because it came from Jesus, Peter obeyed, and the result: they caught a great number of fish that their nets were tearing. Peter immediately felt very inferior before Jesus. He said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Yes, the command from Jesus may not make any sense today, but in the long run, we will find out that he was right.
In today’s gospel passage, we find another part of Jesus’ teaching that seem to make no sense. Today, he teaches about forgiving those who offend us. Last Sunday, he had taught us how to reclaim our lost brothers and sisters; how to correct those who go astray. Peter is a very practical person, he does not want to take chances; he wants things to be as clear as possible. So, he asks, “Now that you have taught us the steps to take to reclaim those who hurt us, how many times must we go through those steps?” In other words, “How many times must I forgive those who offend me before I can retaliate?” Without waiting to hear from Jesus, the inpatient Peter suggests an answer, “Seven times?”
We must commend Peter for his suggestion. Before this suggestion from Peter, there were people who believed if someone plucked one of your eyes, you pluck two of theirs. Then came an improvement that welcomed “an eye for an eye.” The best before Peter spoke were those who suggested you can retaliate after three times. But Peter doubled the three and added one to make seven. Jesus gave a response that hardly made sense. He said, “Not seven, but seventy-seven times.”
Some have interpreted the response of Jesus in figure to mean “77 times,” while others say it is “70 x 7.” No matter the right answer, it still does not make sense. Let us pick the lower number, “77 times.” Imagine how practicable it will be to keep a logbook where you write the names of all your offenders, and you keep count of them until each one gets to the 77th offense before you strike. You will have nothing else to do in life. Considering the impracticability of this interpretation of Jesus’ words, along with the parable of the unforgiving servant in today’s gospel passage, we can only say that Jesus is asking us to keep forgiving, no matter the number of times people offend us.
But does that make any sense? Consider the case of the offender being our own family member, our own friend, someone who should know better. Does it make sense to keep forgiving them? Does it make sense to forgive those who hurt us deliberately and maliciously? Does it make sense to forgive those who simply take us for granted? Does it make sense to forgive those who harm us in a way that is beyond healing? If you find it easy to answer “Yes,” to all these questions, I bet you, you have not really been offended; your finger has not been bitten by the same mouth you fed; you have never extended your hand in love only to return it bruised.
Yes, it does not make sense to keep forgiving. But that is what Jesus is commanding us to do. We must forgive not because it makes sense but because Jesus said so, just like Peter put out his nets one more time, not because it made sense, but because Jesus said so. We must forgive because we have been forgiven by the Father. We must forgive for our own sanity. We must forgive because the one we call an enemy today may become the only solution to our problem tomorrow. We must forgive because we do not know their complete story. My dearly beloved in Christ, Jesus’ response may not make sense today, Jesus’ command to forgive those who offend us may not make sense today, but in the long run, we will find out that he was right. Remember, our true and lasting peace comes from doing the will of God. Knowing how difficult it is to forgive, I pray that God may forgive us our sins, and help us to forgive those who offend us, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.