Peter’s question in today’s Gospel is a question all of us have asked: “How often must I forgive?” Forgiveness is difficult, sometimes it might even seem to be impossible. There are people who might not deserve our forgiveness because they have hurt us deeply. Jesus teaches that the ability or power to forgive comes from our own experience of forgiveness.
The servant in Jesus’ parable is called wicked because he has experienced the overwhelming forgiveness of his entire debt and yet failed to learn from his experience. The master asks him: “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”
The first step in forgiving others is to receive God’s gift of forgiveness by forgiving ourselves. We may see only the sinfulness or pettiness in ourselves but God sees the goodness and holiness in us. God wants us to see this goodness and holiness in ourselves, to see ourselves as God sees us, the image and likeness of this loving and merciful God.
This experience does not make forgiveness easy. We cannot turn it on like a switch. Sometimes all we can do is to do no harm and try not to harbor and nourish ill will against this other person who has hurt us deeply. Sometimes this forgiveness can take a lifetime.
This week in the town of Mosul in Iraq Pope Francis spoke about the need and the difficulty of forgiveness: “The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up.”