From Chiara Lubich
“Forgive your neighbour the wrong done to you, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Sir 28:2).
This Word of Life is taken from one of the books of the Hebrew Testament written between 180 and 170 B.C. by Ben Sira (Sirach in Greek), a sage, scribe and teacher in Jerusalem.
He taught a subject that was dear to the whole tradition of biblical wisdom: God is merciful toward sinners and we should imitate his way of acting. The Lord forgives all our faults because “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8). He overlooks our sins (see Wis 11:23), he forgets them, casting them behind his back (see Is 38:17).
In fact, Ben Sira goes on to say that, aware of how small and weak we are, he “increases his forgiveness.” God forgives because, like a good father or mother, he loves his children, and so he always and untiringly excuses them, covers their mistakes, instils confidence and encourages them.
Because God is mother and father, he is not satisfied with just loving and forgiving his sons and daughters. He ardently desires that they treat one another as brothers and sisters, that they get along with one another, that they love one another. This is God’s great plan for humanity: universal brotherhood. Such a brotherhood is stronger than the inevitable divisions, tensions, and hard feelings that so easily creep into relationships due to misunderstandings and mistakes.
Families often break up because people don’t know how to forgive. Past hatreds are handed down only to perpetuate divisions between relatives, social groups, peoples. Some people even teach others not to forget the wrongs suffered, to cultivate sentiments of revenge … Such deep resentment can only poison the soul and corrupt the heart.
Someone might think that forgiveness is a sign of weakness. No, it’s an expression of great courage; it’s authentic love, the most genuine, because it’s the most selfless.
“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” says Jesus (Mt. 5:46). Everyone knows how to do that. Jesus asks for more: “Love your enemies” (Mt 5:44).
We are asked to learn from him and to have the love of a father, of a mother, a merciful love toward all those who come our way, especially those who do something wrong.
Moreover, for those who are called to live a spirituality of communion, that is, the Christian spirituality, the New Testament asks for something more: “Bear with one another … forgive” (Col 3:13). We could almost say that mutual love requires that we make a pact with one another: to be ready to forgive one another always. This is the only way we can contribute to universal brotherhood.
“Forgive your neighbour the wrong done to you, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.”
These words not only invite us to forgive, but they remind us that forgiving others is the necessary condition for receiving forgiveness. God listens to us and forgives us in the measure in which we forgive others. Jesus himself warns us: “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:2). “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7). Actually, a heart hardened by hatred is not even capable of recognizing and accepting the merciful love of God.
How can we live these words of life? First of all, by immediately forgiving anyone with whom we have not yet been reconciled. But this is not enough. We need to search the innermost recesses of our heart and eliminate even a feeling of indifference, a lack of kindness, an attitude of superiority, of neglect toward anyone we meet.
Furthermore, we need to take some precautionary measures. So every morning I look at the people around me, at home, at school, at work, in the store, ready to overlook anything that I don’t like about their way of doing things, not judging them, but trusting them, always hoping, always believing. I approach every person with this total amnesty in my heart, with this universal pardon. I do not remember their faults at all, I cover everything with love.
And throughout the day I try to make up for having been unkind, for a fit of impatience, by apologizing or by some gesture of friendship. I replace an instinctive rejection toward someone with an attitude of total openness, of boundless mercy, of complete forgiveness, of sharing, of being attentive to his or her needs.
Then when I pray to the Father, especially when I ask him to forgive my mistakes, I am confident that my prayer will be granted. I’ll be able to say with total trust: [L1] Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us (see Mt 6:12).
PS: Each month a Scripture passage is offered as a guide and inspiration for daily living. This commentary, translated into 96 different languages and dialects, reaches several million people worldwide through print, radio, television and the Internet. Ever since the Focolare’s beginnings, founder Chiara Lubich (1920–2008) wrote her commentaries each month. This one was originally published in September 2002.