17 September 2017
Ecclesiasticus 27:30 – 28.7
Romans 14:7 – 9
Matthew 18:21 – 35
Some time ago a friend was telling me that he was at a funeral of a cousin of his. Also attending the funeral were two other men who had not spoken to each other for years because each felt the other had betrayed him badly over an incident that had happened a long time ago. My friend said that after the funeral one of these two men went to the other and put out his hand in friendship and said ‘let us forgive each other and let go of the past’. But the other man just ignored him and walked away still keeping unforgiveness in his heart.
The gospel today follows the gospel of last Sunday which spoke about the need for reconciliation. Today’s gospel emphasises more directly the great need to forgive. Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving debtor. In the parable we see the king calling his servants as he wished to settle his accounts with them. The first servant in the story owes the king the equivalent of 3 million Dollars or Euros in today’s currency. This shows up the incredible generosity of the king who loaned such an immense sum knowing the servant would have difficulty in repaying it. Nonetheless the king is prepared to risk loaning such a huge amount in order to help this servant. Since the servant cannot repay the debt he would have been thrown into prison until it was repaid but the master goes even further when the servant throws himself down at the master’s feet to beg for more time to pay. Amazingly, the king feels so sorry for him that he cancels all the debt.
This reminds us Christians of the great generosity of God who has given each of us so many talents and gifts and even though we may have misused them or even squandered them God is always prepare to forgive us for this if we turn to him for forgiveness.
In the parable when the servant whose debt for such a huge amount was forgiven leaves the king’s presence he meets a fellow servant who owed him the equivalent of about 15 Euros. In comparison to the amount the first servant was forgiven this is an insignificant amount. When asked for more time to pay as he himself had asked the king, this first servant not only refuses to forgive but also he even tries to choke the other before sending him to prison. It’s hard to imagine this.
The other servants were scandalised at the way the second servant was treated by the first and brought the matter to the king who dealt severely with the first servant. He reminded him that the very least he could have done was to forgive the other as he himself had been forgiven. Now he pays the price for such unforgiving behaviour.
The message of the parable is fairly obvious. God forgives each of us over and over again, as we turn to him for forgiveness, in proportion to our forgiveness of one another. Have we any other choice then in view of this than to forgive others who ask us to do so? In the second reading from St. Paul to the Romans we are told that the life and death of each one of us has its influence on others. Our Christian vocation is, among other things, to witness to God’s forgiveness to ourselves by doing the same for others. How can others know the forgiveness of God if they do not see us Christians practising it?
Forgiveness is at the very heart of who God is. If we don’t forgive what does it mean? It is a clear sign of our inability to love another. We all know that if someone we love, like a spouse or a friend does something hurtful to us our first reaction may be anger but usually this gives way to forgiveness because of our love for the other. However, if someone we really don’t like does the same deed, it will be usually harder to forgive that person because we don’t have the same love for him// her as we have for our spouse or friend.
Refusing to forgive is also a sign that we are determined to keep the barrier between another and ourselves. It can even cut us off from the other. What if God acted in a like manner? Forgiveness shows us that we wish to break down the barriers that could exist between another and ourselves and so we choose to be united instead.
Also very often it is our ‘ego-centred selves’ that have been hurt and we find it hard to forgive. Some time ago I met a man who refused to forgive another. I asked him why. He said that if he made the first move it would be seen as a sign of weakness. But the longer the unforgiveness goes on the harder it is going to be for him to forgive.
There was this man who said that every time he saw the man whom he wouldn’t forgive coming towards him in the street or at a meeting he would tense up and move to the other side of the street or whatever was necessary to avoid him. We see here what unforgiveness does to ourselves and this too is one of the reasons why God asks us to forgive because we also suffer ourselves. Some doctors will tell you that certain people suffer from various ailments or sicknesses because the energy that should be used to deal with these is locked up in unforgiveness.
In any event, if any one had the right to refuse to forgive it was Jesus hanging on the cross, unjustly condemned and crucified. We all know his reaction: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing’.
Finally, one important prayer we might want to pray is ‘Lord, help me to forgive others for being different’. No doubt people who are married or living in a community will know that living closely to another with the various differences in personalities, likes/dislikes, behaviour etc. that this is a very appropriate prayer.
‘Lord, since you are always ready to forgive us if we turn to you let us never forget this and give us the courage to forgive others quickly and ourselves too when we get angry with ourselves for one reason or another. Amen’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA