24th Sunday, O T Year A – 17
Sir.27:30—28:7, Rom.14:7-9, Matt.18:21-35
The great British convert and apologist G. K. Chesterton once said, “Forgiving means to pardon the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.” By contrast, you and I often are willing only to forgive if we deem someone’s sins not too serious or offensive.
Today Jesus challenges us to go further in being instruments of His mercy. One way to realize to what extent we ought to extend mercy to others is to turn the table. We ought each day to consider how much God Himself has blessed us in showing us His mercy.
We ought to reflect on how each day we act sinfully, in a way that calls for God’s mercy. All of us long to find a place where we are at home, where we are trusted. But even more importantly, we long to find a place where we can be forgiven, for we know that there are times when we fail to live up to the trust that people place in us.
We might ask ourselves, “Which is more important to me: trust or forgiveness?” If we look to our own experience, it’s easy to answer these questions. If we consider the workplace, we can hope that our employers or supervisors might be patient and help us when we have trouble with a task.
But if we were to imagine our worst Monday, a day in which hour after hour produced nothing but terrible results, and finally ends in a major blunder or misjudgment, we would naturally expect to receive a pink slip instead of forgiveness.
Businesses have to trust people, or they wouldn’t have any employees. But they do not have to forgive endlessly. They can only tolerate a certain amount of error. After that, the relationship is over.
All of us long to find a place where we feel at home, which first and foremost means a place where we know we can experience forgiveness. Home is not simply where the heart is, but where the forgiving heart is.
The home in which we find the deepest sort of forgiveness, a selfless and generous forgiveness that seeks to build up the one who has transgressed: this is our truest home. The Church, in which we share in the Body of Christ, is our truest home.
By right, we should feel most at home there, before its altar, because it is there that we revel in the source of all forgiveness. When the priest speaks those words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper, we are taken into that home where forgiveness was first given by the God-man, when he said,
“This is the Cup of My Blood. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven….”
But in our home here, we find not only forgiveness.
In our home, the Church, when we share in the Eucharist, we give thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in this sacrament, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness.
We receive a share in the life of Christ himself. We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness. We receive the Forgiver. To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self. But to receive the Forgiver:
This means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness even beyond our old self, to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self.
We share in the life of Christ, and so are asked to offer forgiveness to others as Christ does: to all persons, in all circumstances, forever. Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.
There is the story of a man named George Wilson who in 1830 killed a government employee who caught him in the act of robbing the mails. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging. But the then President of the United States, Andrew Jackson granted him executive pardon.
George Wilson, however, refused to accept the pardon. The Department of Corrections did not know what to do. The case was taken to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Marshall ruled that “a pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned.
If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.” And hanged he was. Even if we are opposed to the death penalty, we still cannot but agree with the principle that pardon granted has to be accepted to become effective.
This is the point of today’s gospel. When God forgives us, we must accept God’s forgiveness. But then the gospel goes on to indicate that the way to accept God’s forgiveness is not just to say “Amen, so be it!” but to go out and forgive somebody.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant raises the frightening prospect that pardon already granted by God could be revoked. The king who forgave his servant his debt meant it. But when the servant went out and failed to forgive somebody, the king revoked the pardon.
By his action the servant had shown that he did not appreciate and therefore was unworthy of the pardon he had been given. Is this a good analogy of how God deals with us? That seems to be the point of the parable.
“So, my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt.18:35). In other words, when God gives us His word of forgiveness, everything is not over yet.
The deal is finally concluded only when we are able to go out and forgive those who sin against us. The free grace of God’s forgiveness needs our response of forgiving our neighbor to be finally ratified.
Isn’t that a frightening thought? “Forgive your neighbors the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Sirach 28:2).
Why do we find it hard to forgive others even though that is the only way to anchor God’s forgiveness? I think the reason is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness.
Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii our neighbor owes us rather than the 10,000 talents we owe to God, which God has graciously cancelled.
But God in his infinite mercy sent his own Son to die on the cross and take away our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor.
If we find ourselves in the club of those who find it so hard to forgive other people, chances are that we have not come to appreciate and celebrate enough the immeasurable forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God.
So, let us pray today for a deeper appreciation of the amazing love that God has shown us in Christ. It is this awareness that will make it easier for us to let others off the hook for their relatively minor offences against us.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.