24th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – September 13, 2020
We’ve all heard the statement, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” And we have all likely used the substance of that statement to rationalize away our broken, sinful actions that wound the lives that God gives to us – and to justify our reluctance – and even unwillingness – to forgive those who have wounded us.
Yet, in calling his disciples to reflect in their lives the life and love that he lived on our behalf – from Peter all the way down through the ages to you and to me – Jesus demand of us that we make the pattern of his forgiving heart our own! Perhaps we’d do well to adjust the old adage to read, “To err is human; to forgive is to embrace the gospel message of Jesus and to make it our own!”
It’s somewhat ironic that Peter, of all of the disciples, asks the question of Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” After all, it was Peter himself who would be so generously forgiven for his Good Friday denial of Jesus. Peter pushes the envelope and goes well beyond common rabbinical teachings of the time that said one must forgive another as many as three times and answers the question for Jesus, “Is forgiving another seven times good enough? After all, it’s twice as generous as three.”
Jesus’ answer once again finds Peter wanting. “No Peter. Forgive seventy-seven times.” In other words, don’t put limits on something that is so fundamental to human life and faith and God. … And why is such generous forgiveness so vital to life and faith from Jesus’ perspective? Why? Because forgiveness is integrally woven into the very heart of our faith as Christians. The very incarnation of Jesus is rooted in God’s desire to save his people from their sins, to forgive them – to forgive us – and to give us a way forward in hope and the means to discover the fullness of life in this world and in the eternity of the next.
As such, you and I are radically dependent upon God’s mercy and forgiveness for our very life. Who, then, are we to judge or to put limits on forgiveness we – if we are honest – are in need to such forgiveness every day of our lives?
Given today’s gospel – and particularly the Lord’s Prayer that we will offer in just a few moments and likely pray every day – Jesus clearly says that the condition for our sins being forgiven is to forgive one another. That’s the prerequisite. That’s the teaching. It’s very clear. And that’s the point Jesus is making in this story of the servants: “You received mercy, so why don’t you forgive your brothers and sisters?”
Yet, there’s one more important lesson from today’s gospel teaching on forgiveness and the need for us to generously bestow it on those who have hurt us. In the parable, Jesus states that the unforgiving servant is handed over to torturers – an act that seems incongruous with the merciful love of God, yet an act that underscores the reality of punishment for sin. It also underscores that reality of the punishment that we inflict upon ourselves through our own unwillingness to embrace the freedom that comes from living the gospel.
We all understand what this means. Who suffers most when we refuse to forgive someone who’s hurt us? The other person – or ourselves? Not sure? Think about how life so often unfolds for us when we refuse to forgive and let go of past hurts. We may not even be on that other person’s mind. Yet, whenever we hear that person’s name or it comes into our mind, we replay the offense done to us over and over again – perhaps for years and years – and each time it gets worse and worse and we continue to suffer. And this happens simply because we can’t let go of an offense but instead, foolishly, give it the power to hurt us all over again. What a waste of energy. We torture ourselves instead of letting go and forgiving, as Jesus has forgiven us.
The message of today’s gospel is simple and clear and takes us to the heart of Jesus’ life and mission. As disciples of Jesus, we are called not to judge or harbor resentment. We are called to life and love, to mercy and forgiveness.
Each of those virtues, brothers and sisters, reflect the life of Jesus. And it is only in and through his life that we find our hope as children of God.