Question 175:

The Gospels say: You shall forgive your brother 77 times 7 times. Is that not an encouragement for him to continue to sin against me?


The question refers to the following text in the gospel according to Matthew: “Then Peter came up and said to him [i.e. Jesus], ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (18,21f.)

 “Only when the will to renounce sin includes the will to make amends can we speak of a true conversion of life. Where a person has wronged another person and caused damage, this cannot be made good only by repentance. Rather the damage caused has to be put right as far as possible. In the case of material damage, it has to be done by way of compensation. 


Moreover, an unjust act always affects other people because by sin loving goodness has been damaged. It can be rectified only through works of charity, through asking for forgiveness and by sincerely seeking reconciliation. Otherwise the injustice, even if regretted, would continue to exist and render a relationship based on love and goodwill difficult or impossible.


But forgiveness can only come to its fullness and lead to reconciliation if it is preceded by repentance and the request for forgiveness (cf. Luke 17,4). To forgive somebody who does not repent his or her unjust act does not bring about reconciliation. Rather it is likely to confirm others in their wrongdoing and lead them to do further unjust acts. In spite of this, the person who has been wronged should not wait until the other asks for forgiveness but should make it known that she or he is willing to be reconciled.


Forgiveness and reconciliation are a necessary part of human living. And yet, sin does more than just damage human relations. It always concerns God himself. Hence it can be undone only by the forgiveness of God and his offer of reconciliation. People may and should tell one another: ‘I pardon you.  I forgive you your sin.’ Ultimately, however, only God speaks the word of pardon and the forgiveness of sin (cf. Mark 2,7). God’s act of forgiveness does not mean that our sinful deed is declared undone, forgotten or made less grave than it is. Rather, God wipes out our guilt by turning to us in spite of our wrongdoing, transforms us by his forgiving love and makes us into people who are reconciled with him.” (Katholischer Erwachsenen-Katechismus II, Leben aus dem Glauben, S. 89f.) 

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