17 Sept 2023 – 24th Sunday, (A)

17 Sept 2023 – 24th Sunday, (A)

It is inconsistent to celebrate our God as the Lord of compassion and love, unless we show mercy to those who have wronged us. Today’s Gospel calls us to forgive as Christ forgives us. Some of the finer minds among the Old Testament writers already perceived this connection: “If one has no mercy toward another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins?”

(1) Sirach 27:30-28:7

Our desire for revenge can block us from receiving God’s mercy

Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them.

The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance, for he keeps a strict account of their sins. Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbour anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy toward another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins? If a mere mortal harbours wrath, who will make an atoning sacrifice for his sins? Remember the end of your life, and set enmity aside; remember corruption and death, and be true to the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbour; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 9-12

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults. (R./)

For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins. (R./)

(2) Romans 14:7-9

As we belong to Christ, we live to the Lord

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The spirit of the unforgiving debtor rebounds on himself

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Different attitudes to forgiveness

A woman, pushing on in years, boasted to her pastor that she did not have an enemy in the world. He was very impressed. What a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years! And then she added:- ‘I have outlived them all’. I suppose if we live long enough we will also be able to make the same statement.

We have all been hurt in some way or other in the journey of life–made fun of in school by a teacher, not invited to the wedding, didn’t get the job I thought I should have got, or at a more serious level, betrayed by someone you trusted, abused physically or sexually and so on.

Sheila Cassidy, who was herself tortured in South America, had this to say:- ‘I would never say to someone ‘you must forgive’. I would not dare. Who am I to tell a woman whose father abused her or a mother whose daughter has been raped that she must forgive? I can only say: ‘However much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us..We must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving that we are healed’. Nelson Mandella continually reminded his fellow prisoners in South Africa that unless they let go of their hurts they would remain in the grip of their abusers.

By failing to forgive, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else. Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he told how the merciless servant was cast into prison when he refused to forgive his fellow servant. I don’t think he was suggesting that God would cancel his mercy. He is simply saying that an unforgiving spirit creates a prison of its own. It builds up walls of bitterness and resentment and there is no escape until we come to forgive.

Forgiving and letting go is not easy, especially when the wound is very deep. This is why I call forgiveness the ‘F’ word, because it’s not to be used lightly. Forgiveness is a choice and often involves a three stage process: (1) I will never forgive that person (2) I can’t forgive (forgiveness seen as a good thing, but the hurt is too great) (3) I want to forgive and let go with God’s help.

Also we must learn to forgive ourselves. Imagine you are responsible for something very serious. You are driving a car with drink. There is an accident and a young person is killed. That life cannot be brought back. For more and more people there is a something in the background, some skeleton in the closet–a broken marriage, an abortion, a pregnancy outside marriage, a broken relationship, a serious mistake. And for many of us we do not believe that there is another chance much less a seven times seventy chances. This is not the teaching of Jesus. God does not just give us another chance, but every time we close a door he opens another one for us.

The Lord challenges us not to make serious damaging mistakes, but he also tells us that our mistakes are not forever–they are not even for a life time–and that time and grace wash clean, that nothing is irrevocable.

Pardoning is good for us

Hatred and resentment are moral cancers that eat away at our enthusiasm to do good. An appeal to strict justice is not enough to solve the dilemma, since taking out another’s eye does not really cure the loss of one’s own eye, and revenge cannot really settle the account of a grievance. But forgiveness is a hard virtue to gain and to maintain. We can feel the problem in the question Peter asks of Jesus today: “How many times must I forgive?” And although his proposal of “seven times” is used as a round symbolic willingness to forgive “as much as it is humanly possible to forgive,” Jesus suggest we must go further still, since God forgives “seventy seven times” (or seventy times seven times.) Forgiveness is not a question of just how often or how many times, rather it reflects God’s unending willingness to pardon. There are no limits to his forgiveness.

It is so easy to forget God’s goodness, as our first reading illustrates today. (Eccl 27:30-28:7) Even the stark reality of our own death does not keep each of us alert to God’s gracious promise of salvation as the guiding principal of our actions. It is not easy to see the goodness of God in the hurt we inflict on each other in our selfish interactions. Paul tells us today that we do influence each other. We affect each other. But is it for the good (Rom 14:7-9.)

Our parable today shows that we are incapable of forgiving without first appreciating the forgiveness we have received from God. Notice the three scenes:

(1) We are insolvent, indebted, overdrawn in our account with God’s goodness. God has given us freely life, freedom, integrity and hope. We are incapable of achieving anything by our own resources- we have none! “Without me you can do nothing.”

(2) We are puffed-up with our own importance: “Pay me what you owe me!” We can be intolerant, demanding, inexcusable and arrogant. We can be unkind and unforgiving. We can injure our neighbour, and he can hurt us. We can elbow our way roughly through life. We can so easily hold a grudge, and refuse to forgive.

(3) The ultimate reality “God’s goodness” is never simple-minded. God is not blind. The unforgiving cannot be forgiven. Forgiveness only comes from realising that we have been forgiven. In pardoning we are pardoned. Our tenuous hold on others must quickly be consumed not by following our hatred to the hilt, but by pardoning in gentle forgiveness. Only so can we realise the equation: Insolvency cannot make demands!

And so let us forgive from our hearts, for if we leave the court with our own suit dismissed, and fail to forgive, then we find ourselves immediately rearranged and in the dock as the guilty accused!

Let bygones be bygones

She slipped upstairs to find a few more playthings. Her neighbour had just left her two little ones with her to mind and, with her own two, there wasn’t enough to go round. They had started squabbling already. Rummaging in the toy-box, she came across an old photograph. She looked at it, daydreaming for a moment. Just long enough for one of her little charges to toddle out the front door which had been left slightly ajar. The little body was found later in the pond at the bottom of the garden. She went to pieces. While she was being treated in a psychiatric hospital, the mother of the dead child came to see her, the worst of her grief now over. Her forgiveness helped enormously to set her on the road -to recovery. But she was never the same again. She could never forgive herself for that moment’s neglect.

There is a young couple in Paris, with whom I am friendly. They have two little children. Since they don’t have a car, they occasionally call on my services to ferry them somewhere or other. I am always delighted to do so. Once the two little ones are firmly strapped in the back seat, I dangle the keys in front of the parents and ask: “Now, which of you is going to drive?” They are both excellent drivers. I just couldn’t take responsibility for them. If anything were to happen, God forbid, I would never be able to forgive myself.

Forgiveness is a hard thing. “Forgive and forget’, we are told. If only we could forget, forgiveness would come easy. But the scars of old hurts fester on, refusing to heal. And our resentment grows each time we remember the rejection, the insult, the injury. Our resentment wells up again, as if it was only yesterday. Bygones refuse to be bygones. The closer the friendship, the deeper the hurt. The only forgiveness we can muster, is usually reserved for strangers. Our lives are strewn with broken friendships. And all because we couldn’t find it in ourselves to forgive. “Shake hands and make up” we were told, when we fought as little boys in the school playground. That lesson seems to have disappeared with our schooldays.

“May God forgive him!” we mutter to ourselves, recalling for the umpteenth time some ancient hurt. We could spare ourselves that prayer. What God would like to know is will we forgive him. Jonathan Swift, with all his satire, was closer to the truth than we care to admit: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” How else explain those murderous wars between those who claim allegiance to their God? Not long ago it was claimed that, of all the thirty wars going on in the world, none were simple defence against foreign aggressors. Most of the belligerents were compatriots, separated only by their religion. Such wars will last as long as we refuse to forgive.

One Comment

  1. Thara Benedicta says:

    Key Message:
    Bitterness brings us weariness while forgiveness brings us happiness.

    A wonderful testimony: “I was not gifted with a child for a good number of years after my marriage. Then my brother-in-law got married and my co-sister had a baby within the first year of her marriage. Then my co-sister started mocking me, ‘God made me get married to this family just because you cannot have a child and only I can have a child’, ‘With the money gift you have given me, I will not buy clothes for me to wear on me but buy only something else that can just stay in the house’, and kept treating me as an inauspicious creature and treated me very badly. All the shame was too hard for me to bear, but while praying the divine mercy chaplet, God’s love touched me and I forgave her from my whole heart. Then I had a baby and she became jealous of me. I kept continuously praying for God to bless my co-sister with happiness and God blessed me more and more, both in my career and personal life. Though she still continues to be jealous of me, I continue praying for her. Glory to God, for He has lifted me up in front of her eyes”.

    Unknowingly the lady was doing herself a big favour by forgiving her co-sister. Since she forgave a lot, God fought her battles and gave her glory wherever she was covered with shame.

    When we forgive, we are actually lifting our bleeding hands and hearts to our Almighty Father. When our Almighty Father sees our bleeding hearts and bleeding hands, His heart will be moved for us.

    Bitterness costs us a lot. It will pull down our memory power, increase our inner anger, hatred, and self-pity, and cause stress, mental issues, and other health issues. If we have bitterness in our hearts, we will have to pay a lot for it. It is an unwanted heaviness in our hearts, which we can get rid of by forgiveness. If we are able to forgive others easily, our hearts will become light and filled with happiness. Once Saint Mother Teresa was begging with her open palms in a bus stand to take care of the poor. One person peeped out of the bus window and spit on her hand purposefully. Immediately Saint Mother Teresa wiped the saliva on her dress and begged with her open palm again saying, “What you gave was for me, now please give for the poor”. The person cried and begged for forgiveness.

    Though our Lord Jesus blessed Mother Teresa with a huge mission, she was able to finish her success story, because she was able to win over all her oppositions with her forgiveness. God has put a big vision in our hearts too, but we are not able to withstand the criticism and march ahead, because we are not able to forgive. We cannot win any battle with bitterness.

    Bitterness increases the weariness in our hearts. If we are feeling weary, think if we were feeling bitter about someone. Why lose our peace unnecessarily?

    Lonely people are often lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. Why are we not able to build bridges? Because they keep meditating on their bitter experiences. I know a person who does not carry any bitterness in his heart. He is a forgiving expert. If someone hurts him, he will take measures to make peace with them. Anyone who comes across him likes him. Whenever new people meet him, they remark, “What a good-natured person he is.. ” Though he does not earn much, people with a greater financial income like to be with him, because there is a lot of peace in his presence.

    Most of us want to forgive but are finding it difficult to forgive. Saint Peter also feels the same and asks it in today’s Gospel reading, “Will it be sufficient if we forgive maximum seven times?” The question makes sense since forgiving the same person seven times is also a big effort.

    How do you create the forgiveness habit?
    Our Lord Jesus gives us the magic formula in today’s Gospel:
    “My heavenly Father will also do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Let us keep reminding ourselves of this statement. It will help us to understand the importance of forgiveness. Over time, when our walk becomes closer to God, we will see with spiritual eyes. Then forgiveness comes naturally.

    If I continuously forgive others, won’t they take me for granted?
    Forgiveness means loving others from our hearts without any bitterness. But it does not say that we should not correct them. When a lady was brought to our Lord Jesus for punishment by pelting stones, our Lord Jesus forgave her sins and said, “Do not sin again”. Similarly, we need to explicitly mention that it is not correct and it pains us. We need to explain the correct way of doing it also, since in most of the cases people continue doing the wrong thing because they do not know how to do it correctly.

    When we forgive others, what will happen?
    1. The first thing that will happen is God will make the other person realise their mistake.
    2. As said in today’s Gospel reading our forgiveness towards others is the enabler for forgiveness of our sins by God. So our sins will be forgiven and the gates of eternity will be opened for us.
    Forgiveness is our gate pass to Heaven.

    Our Lord Jesus longs for us to forgive others. That is why when He taught us to pray “Our Father”, our Lord stated, “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us”. The “IF” condition was added for forgiveness alone.

    Let us make ourselves cool by forgiving others.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.