Forgiveness (Le Pardon),
Sculpture by Pieter Braecke (1858-1938),
Sculpted in 1893
White marble
© The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels

Forgiveness (Le Pardon),
Sculpture by Pieter Braecke (1858-1938),
Sculpted in 1893
White marble
© The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels

Gospel of 17 August 2023

How often must I forgive?

Matthew 18:21-19:1

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and he left Galilee and came into the part of Judaea which is on the far side of the Jordan.

Reflection on the sculpture

In our Gospel reading today Jesus tells a parable about a servant who received the gift of forgiveness from his master but then refused to pass on that same gift to a fellow servant. It is a parable which celebrates God’s readiness to forgive us whenever we ask for forgiveness. But it is also a parable that challenges us to do exactly the same: forgive when we are asked to forgive.

Jesus thus tells us that in fact it is an obligation to pass on the gift of forgiveness of his father to others when it is asked for. But to forgive someone who has really hurt us is very hard to do. Peter’s question at the beginning of the reading reflects this, as he asks Jesus ‘How often must I forgive my brother?’ The implication of his question is that there has to be a limit to forgiveness. Peter errs on the generous side, suggesting seven times would be often enough. But Jesus calls for seventy seven times. He implies that there should be no limit to our willingness to forgive.

Our sculpture by Pieter Braecke from 1893 is titled Forgiveness. We don’t know exactly what the story is between these two figures. What we can see is a man bending backward in an awkward position, half-naked with his hands clenched either in prayer or in pleading. The woman’s (maybe his mother) face is close to the man, as she plants a kiss on his cheek. She is warmly embracing him. What we are witnessing is the moment a relationship is transformed. Whatever tension was there, has been dissolved by a mercy and forgiveness.

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John Hobbs
John Hobbs(@edward-dhanley)
6 months ago

I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve walked past so many statues that I almost take them for granted. Maybe it’s the 3D thing (or the ease of resin injection moulding today) and that they can be just part of crowd, the monochrome or the lack of a frame? When I consider the effort that must have gone into creating such a thing, I think marbellous!
On forgiveness, I feel blessed that I just can’t bear a grudge for longer than a few minutes and so I tend to give things that might offend me a good stiff ignoring!
My dad once told me a Japanese proverb about going down to the river to wait for the bodies of your enemies to float by, meaning that if you are right and they are wrong, destiny will catch up with them. I sometimes think about that in retrospect but I can’t garner the negative emotions to wish ill on people. I also wouldn’t want to give satisfaction or oxygen to some who has set out to do me any harm. I’ve felt abandoned by people in the past, including family, but I love them enough to let them go – and something good usually shows up.
Someone said something the other day about independence being a problem. I think they meant indepence from God. In a way I think it’s my faith that gives me independence and with that comes the strength to be resilient if or when people around me wander off or become tricky. And then I have to consider that I’m the one at fault and what corrective action I might take. That’s difficult if you think you’re dealing with someone who might have narcissistic or borderline sociopathic behaviours. But that’s where the good stiff ignoring and some prayers for their mental health can go a long way.
I saw a film about the holocaust once where a German officer was using his ability to “forgive”’as he perceived it as a kind of control or power trip. So I’m really careful with the word because ultimately, if the wrong done to me is a sin, isn’t it for me to pray for their forgiveness rather than think I can forgive them myself?
Best to all, John

Chazbo M
Chazbo M(@chazbo)
6 months ago
Reply to  John Hobbs

Very profound John. Your worldview seems to enable you to take a rose tinted attitude to life. Lucky man.

Mark Crain
Mark Crain(@mark_crain)
6 months ago
Reply to  John Hobbs

You have an incredible gift!

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