24th Sunday A
FORGIVE AND BE FORGIVEN
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in a world where people are quick to anger and swift at resolving issues with violence, the Lord demands that his followers turn the other cheek, that they shun violence and that they forgive. The theme that runs through our liturgy today is forgiveness. The Gospel raises the question of sin between brothers and sisters, which contrasts with our miserly forgiveness. Anyone who hopes to be forgiven by God, has an obligation to forgive others. If we cannot bring ourselves to do this, it is an indication that we really haven’t imbibed God’s forgiveness.
First Reading ( Sirach 27:30-28:7)
At one time or the other, you may have suffered injustice and somehow reacted aggressively. At such a time what comes easily to mind is retaliation, we are angered and we bear grudges and hatred for those who have wronged us. Let us look first at the result we get from our anger and hatred and retaliation, do they really satisfy our yearning for justice? Don’t we even sometimes after retaliation feel guilty, because of the enormity of the pain we see the other person suffer because of our actions? Does retaliation in any way take the place of justice or equal justice? Definitely we will have different answers. Looking at it from the point of scripture, in ancient times, the simple way to make up for the wrongs received and to discourage the other person from doing such again, is to give the maximum violence possible, so that the one responsible will not dare you again. In the book of Genesis 4: 23-24 we heard of Lamech the Son of Cain who said, “I killed a man for wounding me, a boy for striking me. Sevenfold vengeance is taken for Cain, but seventy-seven for Lamech.”
In the book of Exodus, we see something better, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, wound for wound”(Ex 21:24). This means that there is the need to measure the injustice you have suffered to be able to give back in the same measure that you have received. But the book of Leviticus teaches otherwise, “Do not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your neighbour frankly so as not to share his guilt. Do not seek revenge or nurture a grudge against one of your people but love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev.19:17-18) Today’s reading echoes the same message, “Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done and then your sins will be forgiven when you pray…Remember the commandments and do not be angry with your neighbour…” Resentment and anger belong to the sinner and to exact vengeance is to also experience it. Above all, the forgiveness of ones neighbour is a disposition to receiving forgiveness from God. There is no need to cherish resentment while looking for compassion from God. The Lord Jesus teaches the same in the Gospel of today.
Second Reading (Romans 14: 7-9)
Paul in this chapter took up a discussion about two groups of people— The weak and the strong. The weak are the traditionalists who were still very much attached to the old traditions, kept the fasting days, lived austere life and abstained from certain kind of meat. The strong on the other hand are the progressives who felt bound by only the law ‘love your neighbour.’ While the weak accused the strong of being corrupt, lax, feeble minded and easy-going Christianity, the strong accused them of being old-fashioned, mentally handicapped and being unable to understand the true message of the Gospel. In Paul’s letter he advised the two groups to accept each other. They should not despise themselves and should refrain from judgement. After-all they are not living for themselves but for Christ.
This applies to us also, we should realise that we are doing everything for the sake of Christ. It is for Christ that we live and it is for him that we die. That was why Christ himself died and rose to life for us. We must therefore forgive others for the sake of Christ.
Gospel (Matthew 18: 21-35)
During the time of Jesus, the issue of forgiveness generated a lot of debate among the teachers. While some held on to the teaching or rule of Moses on ‘an eye, for an eye’, there were others who did not support the use of violence in resolving matters, instead they advise on reconciliation and taught their followers to shun anger, resentment and vengeance. This reconciliation is however limited to the people of Israel, not to people of other nationalities. To qualify for forgiveness in many cultures, the offender must admit his mistakes and then must come before the offended to apologise. That seems to be a reasonable position. But people also have different opinions on the number of times the offender might expect to be pardoned. Some say once, others believe in a second chance, but the most accepted was thrice. In case of the fourth time, punishment became mandatory to deter him from committing such an offence again. Jesus teaches us that the mercy of God is like a limitless ocean. He never tires of forgiving and same is expected of his children.
After about three years with Jesus the disciples had heard his emphasis on forgiveness, the need to forgive and how their heavenly father is also merciful to the sinner. Peter asked to be sure on how many times a disciple is expected to forgive. He did not stop at three but “as many as seven times?” Note that the number seven itself, stood for fullness, totality. So Peter’s question could also be reframed thus, ‘do you mean we must forgive always and every time?’ Jesus then replied Peter, you need to go beyond totality, ‘seventy-seven-times’ that is to eternity, no end to the number of times that you have to forgive.
The story told by Jesus in the passage, is of great help in understanding the difference between what God does for us, in forgiving our sins and how tiny what we suffer, and still fail to forgive.
1 denaruis = 1 day’s wage
1 talent = 6,000 denarii (6,000 days wages)
10,000 talents (60 million days wages—160,000 years)
Ten thousand talents at the time of Jesus would have taken a daily worker very many years (according to Prof. Brant Pitre- about 3.6 billion dollars in today’s calculation) to earn. That means, it is a debt, this servant can never repay. But the king after listening to the plea of this servant forgave his debt. But the same servant, could not even give his fellow servant, who owed 100 denarii (100 days wage) some time to pay up something very little that he is owed. He got him arrested and thrown into prison. Because of that, he is recalled and sent to prison too and from his prison he will have to pay his debt. How possible is that? He will remain in prison for life. Does that put some fear in us? Will God recall all our past mistakes if we fail to forgive our neighbours?
The lesson for us today is to place a great value on forgiveness. In the Lord’s prayer, we recite often, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” There is a great healing that goes with forgiveness. What we owe God is unpayable, but what others owe-though hurtful can be atoned for. We must choose to go beyond our pains to forgive that we may truly enjoy the fruits of the forgiveness God has offered us in sending his Son to die for our sins. When you approach your priest- confessor with a heavy heart, what happens after the words of absolution had been pronounced? Do you not feel the peace of God returning to your soul? When you forgive your neighbour, you bring him peace, just as you receive yourself.
Let us pray: All-powerful God, may we who stand always in need of your mercy, and who love to receive it, be ready to show mercy to others. Amen. May the Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen