BY WOODEENE KOENIG-BRICKER
Forgiveness is a major theme in Scripture. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God continually forgives the people of Israel for their transgressions. However, the old tribal law of an “eye for an eye” still continued to govern actions. With Christ, we gain a new understanding of what forgiveness means and why we are called to “forgive those who trespass against us,” as we say in the words of the Our Father.
Jesus gives us two very good reasons for forgiving others. First, that your own sins might be forgiven: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-16). Second, we forgive so that our prayers will be heard: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). But Jesus takes the idea of forgiveness much further than even his disciples could have imagined. He tells us that we should forgive those who harm us-not just once or twice but over and over, as many times as necessary:
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).
So how can we convey this radical understanding of forgiveness to our students? One of the best ways is with a visual.
- Glass jar
- 490 (70×7) beans
Begin by talking to your class about how we say we are sorry when we have done something wrong and what it means to forgive when someone has done something wrong to us. As you talk, drop a bean in the jar and explain that the bean represents one act of forgiveness.
Then explain that Peter asked Jesus if we had to forgive someone more than once. Peter asked if we had to forgive as many as seven times. Stress that Peter thought seven was a huge number of times to have to forgive someone. At this point, drop six more beans in the jar. Say that Jesus didn’t say we had to forgive seven times, but 70 times seven.
As students if they know how much 70 times seven is When you get the answer, pour the rest of the beans in the jar so that students can see just how many times Jesus tells us we need to forgive. (Even older students will be impressed when they see the actual amount!)
Finally, add that Jesus didn’t mean we are meant to keep track and just forgive just 490 times — he meant that we are to keep on forgiving as many times as needed, just as God keeps on forgiving us.
End the session by teaching your class the traditional Act of Contrition.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker is the author of numerous books, including 365 MARY, and is the senior editor of a woman’s Bible. She has helped develop curriculum for both youth and adult faith formation programs and has taught RCIA in her parish.
This article was originally published in RTJ’S Creative Catechist, February/March 2014.
Image credit:iQoncept / Shutter Stock 515701237