Gospel Meditation: Forgive Seventy-Seven Times
I offer a guided Ignatian meditation on today's Gospel. This is an invitation to let the scripture enter into your heart and mind and speak personally to you. Ignatius said that meditation specifically engages our memory, thoughts, and will. We hear the word of God, and we ponder it, noticing any words, images, or ideas that speak to our hearts. And we speak to God about all of this.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the text. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text.
If at any point during the guided meditation the scripture comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written meditation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
Today's Gospel is both incredibly generous and incredibly demanding. Jesus is saying that the well of forgiveness need never run dry. The listener knows how hard it is, sometimes, to forgive. At the same time, the listener knows how much forgiveness is needed for their own transgressions. Furthermore, the listener knows how hard it is, sometimes, to accept forgiveness. Developing a new understanding of forgiveness may be one step on the journey to become a more forgiving person, but the most important element is the grace of God. The only way we can learn to forgive the way that Jesus asks -- and also to accept such forgiveness -- is to ask God to teach us how.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the the grace to forgive.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly twice, savoring the words. The first time, just listen to get a sense of it, to hear what is being said. The second time, notice any word or phrase, image, or idea that speaks to your heart or “shimmers” for you. Stay with that word, image, or idea and ponder its meaning. Notice how it makes you feel. Savor the experience.
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
What phrases or ideas in this passage have moved you, made you feel something – perhaps consoled, surprised, disturbed, or encouraged? Can you identify the phrase and the feeling?
Ask God what it means that you were moved in this way.
Ask God to remind you of a time in your life when you were forgiven for something you did or failed to do. Sit with this memory for a moment, paying attention to how it felt to be forgiven.
Now ask God to remind you of a time when you forgave someone who sinned against you. What was that like? How did it feel?
In the context of those memories, how does Jesus’ statement that one must forgive seventy-seven times affect you? Does it feel like an opportunity, or more like a burden?
Sometimes false ideas about forgiveness can get in the way of accepting Jesus’ teaching. False ideas include believing that forgiveness means allowing another to continue to hurt us, or that forgiveness and reconciliation are the same thing, or that forgiveness means forgetting. If any ideas like these hold you back from forgiving, ask Jesus to guide you as you seek to learn more about forgiveness.
Take a few moments to talk with Jesus about all you have reflected on, and what you are feeling and thinking right now. Speak with him as you would to a friend, sharing and listening. When you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?