September 17, 2017
24th Sun in Ord Time
Sun 10 am & 4:30 pm
Sirach 27:30-28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
Charged with assault and the murder of a young woman, it only took the jury minutes to return with a guilty verdict against the accused man. The courtroom erupted in cheers as the verdict was read…As the man was led away from the courtroom his mother yelled out, “What you did was despicable, but I want you to know I love you.”…Outside the courthouse the media expected the parents of the young woman to cry out with hateful words, to demand the death penalty and to express their wish for vengeance. But instead, they chose to forgive the young man. Everyone looked on in disbelief! They weren’t denying that their hearts were crushed by the loss of their precious daughter and that justice must be done but they chose love and forgiveness over hate and bitterness.
The readings this Sunday speak to us about the necessity of forgiveness. To forgive is one of the hardest things to do for us human beings. And it is one of the most difficult requirements for a disciple of Christ. Two Sundays ago we heard in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Forgiveness is doing just that.
It’s not easy, it is nearly impossible to forgive in the flesh, in the natural. It is only possible through the grace (help) of the Spirit of God within us, through the supernatural. Our flesh and the world tell us to get revenge, don’t forgive, strike back! But as disciples of Jesus we are expected and commanded to forgive as He did on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” But you might say, oh sure Jesus forgave because He is God. Yes but He was also human. St. Stephen (one of the first deacons) forgave when they were stoning him to death. As many have done the same thing over the centuries, like the parents in the story at the beginning, but only with the grace of God. True forgiveness from the heart can only occur through prayer, as we are molded into the image of Christ.
But really, why must we forgive? Why as Catholic Christians are we expected and commanded to forgive those who have come against us? The 1st reason is because of the Lord’s Prayer that He taught us Himself, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” If we have ever prayed that prayer we are saying to God: “If I forgive than I ask you Lord to forgive me…but if I do not forgive then Lord don’t forgive me.” That is the condition, that is how it is simple as that. If I want to be forgiven I must first forgive…We heard just that in the first reading from Sirach, one of the Wisdom books. And Jesus illustrates this in today’s Gospel which is about the debtor who owed the king a huge amount. But he had no way to pay so he fell down, did him homage and begged for mercy. The king had compassion on the man and he was forgiven his entire debt…But then the man meets someone who owed him a much smaller amount. Does he forgive the man and let him slide? No! But the king heard about it and calls him in and tells him, “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.” In the story the king is God, we are the ones who owe the huge debt and the fellow servant (the other guy who owed the small amount) are those who have come against us. The huge debt that we owe is our sins, original and personal. We cannot make it into heaven with this debt because there is no way we can pay it back. It doesn’t matter how rich we are, how strong, or smart, how talented, how good looking or funny, there is no way we can pay the debt for our sins. That is why Jesus came, to pay the ransom for our souls. He paid for us the entire debt that we owe with His Precious Blood, the debt that we no way could pay. If we accept this unimaginable, tremendous gift and we are truly sorry for our sins then our debt is paid. *But then there is the condition: “I must forgive as I have been forgiven.” If we accept the mercy of the King of kings, then we must forgive those who have come against us. You see, we are just like in the story. Our debt is maxed out that we owe God, but those we need to forgive, their debt to us is much, much smaller compared to what we owe. Our ability and our willingness to forgive begins with our understanding and belief in the mercy and compassion of God. When we truly believe that we are forgiven through the Cross of Christ, then it helps us to forgive the other…That is the 1st reason we as Catholic Christians are expected and commanded to forgive those who have come against us: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
The 2nd reason we are to forgive is for our own good. Why? Because it sets us free. You see, when we do not forgive someone, when we hold bitterness and anger against someone it is us who are held captive not the other person. It is us who are slaves and it is us who are made sick inside not the other person. It has been said that bitterness, hate and unforgiveness against someone is like us swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die! Resentment and bitterness have even been believed to cause physical ailments. But when we forgive from our heart with the heart of Christ we are set free. When we choose to forgive, to let go, with the grace of God then the shackles fall off of us, the prison gate is open and we are made whole again, we are healed! Yes forgiveness is for the good of the other person but is mostly for our own good. That is the 2nd reason.
But in the Gospel Peter asked the question that we ask, “How often must I forgive? As many as 7 times.” Jesus answers, “Not 7 times but 77 times.” It was believed in the time of Jesus and Peter that one must forgive 3 times. After that you could demand vengeance. So by Peter suggesting 7 times he thought he was going way beyond what was required. But Jesus shocked Peter by saying “not 7 times but 77 times.” In other words, as disciples of Christ we are expected to forgive continuously without end. Think about it, how many times have you asked the Lord for forgiveness and how many times have you went out and fell again? That is what Confession is for right? As long as Jesus continues to forgive us we are to continue to forgive the other…And think about this, if God limited our times He would forgive us, if He said after such & such amount of times you can’t be forgiven any more. You used up all your passes. Heaven would be empty! God doesn’t limit the times He forgives us, we shouldn’t limit the times we forgive the other.
In closing, today’s readings are a continuation of last week’s readings which is a teaching on relationships within the Church community and within our own families. Jesus is teaching us as His disciples how to live with each other, how to live in a way that brings us peace that only His way of living can. The world tells us one thing but Jesus tells us the opposite. It is very difficult to forgive, I know, especially when it is very hurtful. It might not happen overnight but may take time, praying and asking the Holy Spirit to help you. Continue to cry out and ask the Spirit to help you and over time you will be able to and you will find a joy and a peace that cannot be explained…When we choose forgiveness over revenge, love over hate, we begin to see God in us because forgiveness is a participation in the very heart of God…Forgiveness is a necessity, it is a command, but it is for our own good, for the good of our family and for the good of the community.