One of the Fathers of the desert offered the following vivid lesson to the younger monks: “Imagine, my brother, that at this moment I am taking on the person of the just Judge, and I am ascending the throne of judgment. Then I ask you, ‘What do you want me to do with you?’ If you were to say, ‘have mercy on me,’ I would reply, ‘and you have mercy on your brother.’ And if, further, you told me, ‘forgive me,’ I would answer, ‘and you forgive the faults of your neighbor.’
“Is the Judge perhaps unjust? God forbid!
“Brother, gaining the sympathy of the Judge is in your hand: it is enough to have learned to forgive.”
More than anything this makes me think of the way Jesus teaches us to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer, He tells is to say “forgive us our trespasses (or sins or debts, depending on translation) as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The keyword is “as.” We will only be forgiven if we have forgiven others.
Something I have often heard people say is that “So and So doesn’t deserve forgiveness” as if that is a reasonable justification for withholding forgiveness. A bedrock foundation of living the kind of life required to authentically follow Jesus is that there are no reasonable justifications to withhold love from anyone and there have never been any such reasonable justifications and there never will be.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and as God first loved us. We are to love unconditionally. This also requires that we forgive unconditionally. One of the great mysteries of living the spiritual life is that in the long run, loving unconditionally and forgiving unconditionally is a greater benefit to the one who loves and forgives than it is the one loved and forgiven.
To love unconditionally, to forgive unconditionally makes us better people, makes us more like Jesus.