The apple. I’m not a real fan of the apple unless it has sufficient peanut butter or is baked in a pie, but regardless of my thoughts on that particular piece of fruit, it is both famous and infamous. There’s the Big Apple, American as Apple Pie, Johnny Apple Seed, and more, but there is also that one little apple in a Garden that enticed Eve. Yet, in this case, the apple is falsely accused because nowhere in the Holy Scriptures are we told that the piece of fruit was an apple. It is only ever referred to as fruit, so how did it become an apple? For the answer, we have to go back to the fourth century when St. Jerome translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin: the Vulgate Bible.
The word for fruit in Hebrew is peri, and according to a professor of English literature, whose name just so happens to be Robert Appelbaum, “Jerome had several options, but he hit upon the idea of translating peri as malus, which in Latin has two very different meanings. As an adjective, malus means evil. As a noun, it seems to mean an apple, in our own sense of the word, coming from the very common tree now known officially as the Malus pumila. So Jerome came up with a very good pun.” (Source) What was the name of the tree that Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat from? Answer: “The tree of the knowledge of good and malus/evil” (Genesis 2:17) but could also, according to Jerome, be named, “The tree of the knowledge of good and malus/apples.” Afterward, the fruit showed up in many paintings as an apple, and in the seventeenth century, when John Milton published Paradise Lost and referred to the fruit as an apple—game over. It will forever be thought of as an apple. So what is the point of this apple lesson?
Throughout our culture, we say/believe many things that we believe are passages of Holy Scripture when they are not. For example: “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s in the Bible. Right? Wrong. That was Benjamin Franklin in the Farmer’s Almanac. How about this one: “God will never put more on you than you can handle.” Scriptural or not? Not. St. Paul says something similar in his letter to the Corinthians, but it is only about sin, not everything else that comes against us. There are many more, but the one I want to look at today is a favorite of Christians: “Forgive and forget.” Exactly where is that in the Bible? Nowhere. The source of this misguided piece of wisdom is actually Don Quixote. The line: “Let us forget and forgive injuries.”
Forgiveness is hard enough as it is without adding other conditions. Heck. In many cases, it doesn’t even seem like the fair thing to do. Someone hurts you somehow, but the onus is placed on you instead of them having to do anything. You have to go to that person and say, “I forgive you,” when you would probably prefer to tell them something entirely different. I’m the one that was hurt, so why should I have to do all the hard work to make it right? Now someone is going to come along and say, “Not only must you forgive the other person, but you must also forget what it was they did to you.” Where does such a notion come from?
In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins.” Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our sins from us.” Forgiving and forgetting are part of the nature of God and St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiving each other, yes. Forgetting? It’s not really there.
I’ve told you this one before: it is the story of a young peasant woman living back in the middle ages who began to have visions of Jesus. The report of her visions spread far and wide, eventually reaching the ears of the Archbishop. Not believing that a young peasant woman could possibly be having visions, he went to see her and asked her what she saw, and she told him. Still, in disbelief, he told her, “The next time you have visions of Jesus, you ask him what I confessed at my last confession. If you can answer that, then I will believe.” Some months later, the report reached the archbishop that the woman was again having visions, so he went to her again and asked if she had spoken to Jesus and asked the Lord about the Archbishop’s last confession. Her response was, “Yes.” “Well then,” said the Archbishop, “What did Jesus say?” Her response, “Jesus said, ‘I don’t remember.’” God forgives, and God forgets.
Another story: a woman went to visit her priest in great distress. Through many tears, she told him about how they had discovered that her father had for several years been sexually molesting her daughter. When questioned even more, the woman told the priest that her father had also sexually molested her as a little girl. She said that in her later years, “Not only did I forgive my father, but I also worked very hard at forgetting what he had done to me. I didn’t want to remember; it was too painful.” She had tried to do what we see as the “godly thing”; however, in forgetting, she did not remember that her father never confessed to a wrong, never repented, so in her forgetting, she placed her daughter in great danger.
When we forgive, it is not spiritually possible to forget. In many cases, to forget will only increase the potential harm done to us or others, so perhaps a better saying would be, “Forgive and be prudent” or “Forgive and use sound judgment.”
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus made what some would consider an uncharitable statement, but it is speaking of prudence in all our actions, including forgiveness. He said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Matthew’s Gospel expands on the same statement: Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In other words, Jesus says, “I know that the world is not a safe place; therefore, be peaceful in your actions, but stay alert. Be prudent in your dealings with this dangerous world.”
The author of Proverbs writes, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways” (Proverbs 14:8) and again, “Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16)
We must forgive the wrongs done against us—end of discussion—we must forgive. We forgive even if the person who committed the wrong never repents or refuses to repent. That’s between them and God. However, when we forgive someone, we are not saying that what happened didn’t matter, that everything can go back to the way it was. In addition, we have to keep in mind that forgiveness is very much a process. It will probably not happen overnight unless you are a saint, so there will be days long after you believe that you have forgiven when the anger rises in you all over again, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It simply means that you are human.
With all that said, there are parts of those hurtful and wrong instances that we should forget; specifically, we should forget—set aside—the deep hurt and anger that builds in us because if we persist in it, then we are allowing another person’s sin to lead us into sin—a vicious cycle.
By forgiving, we may allow the other person to feel better about themselves for bringing harm to us or someone else, but ultimately our forgiveness is not for their sake or their benefit. Instead, it is for the sake of our souls so that it will not torment us and draw us into sin.
Bottom line: forgiveness is about healing. If it can heal relationships—Good. If it can heal other situations and bring comfort to others—that’s fine too. However, in the end, forgiveness is about healing you. It is about freeing your soul so that you may experience the joy of the Lord.
Forgive and be prudent, but whether those who hurt you ask for forgiveness or not, forgive them. Unshackle your soul and be free of the bitterness.
Let us pray: Lord, we sinners who are in need of Your mercy. Help us to have a heart of genuine sorrow for our sins and turn to You for that grace. As we seek Your mercy, help us forgive the wrongs others have committed against us. We do forgive. Help that forgiveness enter deep into our souls as an expression of Your holy and Divine Mercy. Jesus, we trust in You. Amen.