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March 21, Abuchi, SJ - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

Forgiveness and Heart

Tuesday, Third Week of Lent

March 21, 2017

Dan 3:2, 11-20/ Ps 25:4-5ab. 6 and 7cd. 8-9/ Accl. Joel 2:12-13/Mt 18: 21-35.

By *Fr. Maduabuchi Leo Muoneme, SJ


Prior to sharing my reflection, it is imperative, in the circle of Jesuits, collaborators, and friends of Jesuits, to point out that fifteen years ago today Rev. Fr. Michael Madubuko, S.J. entered eternity—while doing his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago. I had the privilege of living with Michael for one year in the Jesuit Community at Ibadan. As far as my memory can bear witness, he had a deep mind, and he had a good and forgiving heart. May he enjoy eternity in our Father's home! Forgiveness and heart are the foci of my reflection today.


St Ignatius keenly advised that we should use our senses and imagination to pray. Today's gospel and the spate of structural engineering failures in some parts of Nigeria instigated my imagined anecdote. There was once a town with draconian laws, such as, "sentence to death by hanging for anyone who burglarized another's home." Someday Kufre went to his place of work, while his hungry and unemployed friend James broke into Kufre's house and looted electronic equipment. When Kufre returned he was mad when he realized that his house had been vandalized. He felt greatly victimized and betrayed when investigations revealed the vandalism was done by his close friend James. Kufre took the matter to the town's draconian court, cognizant that it would be death sentence for James if he is found guilty. Before the day of trial, James came to Kufre and pleaded guilty outside of court and begged Kufre for forgiveness. Kufre refused to listen to his horrified friend and kept bragging and shouting, "We must follow due process in a legal framework!" The following day, James, aware that death was imminent, mounted the dock. As the trial was about to begin, there was a windy rain storm that caused the court house to attain natural frequency. Within minutes, the court house began to collapse. Unbelievable! The judge was the first to run out. The policemen took to their heels; and so did the lawyers and members of the audience. After the sudden disintegration of the building into rubbles, only two people were inside the building: James had fallen, and he was mesmerized, while Kufre was buried under the rubble gasping for air. When James heard Kufre struggling to breathe, he immediately rose and ran towards Kufre and began to dig away the rubbles of heavy mortar and wood. Finally James pulled out Kufre from the rubbles. Kufre was ashamed and humbled, and he exclaimed: "The man I wanted dead is the same man who saved my life!" That was the end of "due process" or "legal framework." This fortuitous experience of building collapse humanized Kufre's stony heart; and he and James became even deeper friends for the remainder of their lives.


In today's gospel, the Lord is unequivocal: "Unless each of you forgives your brother and sister from your heart, the Father will not forgive you" (Matthew 18:35). The Greek word "to forgive" is aphiemi, which means to unbind, to untie, or to let go (Hart, 2007). In the light of the Hebrew language, forgiveness (nasa, ns') means to lift away, to carry away, or to remove (Walts and Gulliford, 2004). Reyes (2004) avows that the disconnection between a person's heart and mind induces that person to become a potential danger to others. The word "heart" (kardia—Greek, Cor—Latin, Lebab—Hebrew) occurs over a thousand times in the bible and three times in today's readings. An unforgiving heart practices the praxis of domination as portrayed by the unforgiving servant in today's gospel. Freire (1970/1993) stated, "Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and masochism in the dominated." Victor Frankl (2000) suggested that the more we forget ourselves and give ourselves to a cause or another person, the more human we become. According to Martin Luther King Jr., when we look in the face of every person and see deep down in that person, "the image of God," we begin to love him or her in spite of what he or she has done. Similarly, Pope Francis (2013) argued that "forgiveness is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil." The wicked servant in today's gospel had experienced restorative justice from his master. Why did this wicked servant not also encourage a sense of inclusion and recognition of the common humanity of his fellow servant? In the African philosophy of ubuntu, a human being is a human being through the eyes of the other. A person with a forgiving heart feels that he or she belongs "in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished" (Tutu, 1997). As a final note, I end today's Lenten reflection by reminding all of us that forgiveness is also a spiritual work of mercy. Therefore let us all work towards forgiving offences since our Heavenly Father has also forgiven us. "Be merciful as the Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36)! When we imitate the Father, we will journey from sorrow to the great joy of Easter!

*Fr. Maduabuchi Leo Muoneme, SJ, is a lecturer and Special Adviser to the Vice Chancellor of the Catholic Univeristy of Nigeria (Veritas) in Abuja. 

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