Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 13, 2020
Matthew 18: 21-35
By Rev. John Tran
Too many people take unfinished business with them to their graves. A man on his deathbed told the following story. I had a very good friend. But he and his wife moved to a foreign county. A little while later my wife had to have severe surgery. My friend an his wife never got in touch with us. I knew they knew about it. I was very hurt because they never called us to ask how she was. So, I dropped the relationship. After a few years I saw my friend several times, and he always tried to reconcile, but I would never accept it. I wasn't satisfied with the explanation. I was prideful and shrugged him off. A few years later, he died of cancer. I feel so sad because I never got to see him. I never got to forgive him; it pains me so much. My advice is: don't wait.
How many times to forgive a wrong? This is indeed the question; how many times have we asked it? Peter is asking this question, and very probably has some specific situation in mind. After all, he was a follower of Jesus and was not appreciated by everyone. Peter thinks he is very generous in offering to forgive seven times. Seven was considered a perfect number and could represent an infinite number of times. The Rabbis said that we should forgive a person 3 times. This come from a comment by the Prophet Amos that condemns the nations for 3 times and for 4. And yet in spite of Peter's generosity, Jesus says to Peter,
“I say to you not seven time, but seventy-seven times.
Then Jesus tells the parable of the king and his official who owed him a great deal of money. He listens to the pleading of the official that he would pay the king later and to give him more time. The king was moved to compassion. Compassion is to be so moved by by another's plight, that we feel move for that person in our deepest self. The king is so touched by his plea that he forgives the entire debt of the official. The king expects the official to learn from what he had done. Instead the official goes out and demands payment from a fellow servant for a much lesser debt, and does not listen to his fellow servant's pleading, but demands payment now. The king hears of this and is furious because the official did not learn from the king’s generosity, and punishes him.
So, what does this mean for us. It is certainly related to the gospel from last Sunday about giving forgiveness to another. Jesus is telling us that God is like the king in that God will always forgives the sinner; God also expects us to learn from this and do the same. If we are to find salvation ourselves, we are to forgive without limit; we cannot say, ‘I will forgive, but not forget.’ This is a teaching that runs throughout Jesus message about bring the Kingdom of God into existence.
This is a nice theory, but what about being deeply hurt by a family member or good friend; “I will never forgive that.” What about being mistreated for our race, economic status, or religion? This is asking a lot, and yet Jesus does not hesitate to ask this of us every day we draw a breath. Think of the forgiveness both Jews and gentiles were asked to give after World War II.
But heroic forgiveness is not that far away from our own experience. After all, isn’t it ironic that this gospel is read today, 9/11? What horrors we are asked to forgive that happened 2 days ago in 2001? And yet, Jesus is standing in front of you today, and asking just that. But the implications are greater; not only are we to forgive the people who did it and the Muslim extremist behind it, we are asked not to lay the blame of this horrible action on Muslims who may also think that those actions were horrible also. Compassion is the key to this kind of forgiveness. We see in the first story, Bob lacked any compassion, as did the official in the gospel. Only with it can we be moved to total forgiveness like the king in the parable was.
Today, a lot is asked of us. “But if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” St. Paul writes today, “None of us lives for oneself, and none of us dies for oneself.;” if we live or die, it is for the Lord. After all, The Father did not hold forgiveness from each member of the human race for needing redemption so badly that only the death of his only Son, made man, would be enough.