24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 17th September 2017

Forgiveness

First Reading

Ecclesiasticus 27:33-28:9

Resentment and anger, these are foul things,
and both are found with the sinner.
He who exacts vengeance will experience the vengeance of the Lord,
who keeps strict account of sin.
Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you,
and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.
If a man nurses anger against another,
can he then demand compassion from the Lord?
Showing no pity for a man like himself,
can he then plead for his own sins?
Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment;
who will forgive him his sins?
Remember the last things, and stop hating,
remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments.
Remember the commandments, and do not bear your neighbour ill-will;
remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offence.

Second Reading

Romans 14:7-9

The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord. This explains why Christ both died and came to life: it was so that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Forgiveness”

by Maja Drapiewska

In today’s gospel, Peter asks Jesus a technical question how many times we should forgive people who had wronged us and Jesus’s response is that as many as it takes and even more.

Elsewhere he taught us: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. We recite this line at least once a week if not a couple of times a day. But do we truly live it?

As C.S. Lewis says in one of his works ‘Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive’. Because when we are hurt or grieving, forgiveness is the last thing we want to consider. It goes against our nature.

We might rather want the other person to be hurting as badly as us – we want justice, we want revenge.

Even babies are not born being able to forgive. But of course forgiveness is the only way forward. This is something you have to learn as you go through life. That’s the way God wants us to go.

Like the King from the parable, God forgives us the infinitely larger debt and He expects us to forgive the tiny liabilities in comparison that others may have with us. That does not mean however that we are expected to forget or approve of the wrong that was done. Sometimes people say ‘forgive and forget’ thinking that God says it in the Bible. But they’re wrong, it’s nowhere in the Scriptures. It’s a line from Shakespeare’s play, ‘King Lear’.

To forget a serious hurt is not humanly possible you need supernatural grace. A more accurate biblical command is to remember God’s mercy granted to you in order that you can forgive others.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, a conscious choice we need to make. Even if the hurt was tremendous, we should say the words ‘I forgive you’ often, whether we feel it or not. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to pour God’s love into your heart. We need to stop dwelling on the wrongdoing and the person you can’t forgive.

And how will we know that the process of forgiveness is complete? When we feel the freedom that comes with it, that’s how! The act of forgiveness will set us free from resentment and anger that we felt before.

Let’s finish with a quote from our Pope Francis:

One cannot live without seeking forgiveness, or at least, one cannot live at peace, especially in the family’.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

Only someone who has never been offended could imagine that forgiveness is easy. Whatever our experience in life may be, we know that it is easy to offend and that forgiveness is rare. Jesus does not reflect on the difficulty we have in forgiving but on the one who has offended us. He says that whenever we are offended we should always offer forgiveness. Yet again we have one of Jesus’ demands that is rarely practised. Not only should we forgive one who offends us, but we should set no limits to our forgiveness. Every offence, no matter how serious, should be forgotten and forgiven. This is what Jesus asks of his disciples – no more and no less!

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

When Jesus gave his disciples the power, and the order, to forgive, and showed them how they were to forgive, Peter interrupted him (Mt 18,21) with a question, one that introduces a new issue: how far does the obligation to forgive go? We must forgive, yes, but how many times? The whole gospel passage (Mt 18, 21.35) opens and closes with the words “forgive your brother”. This is a literary device which is used to emphasize the new theme. He is no longer speaking about correcting the transgressor, but about brotherly forgiveness. There is an obligation to correct but forgiveness cannot be refused. Jesus’ reply comes in two parts, and in it he goes further than the question put to him. First of all, Jesus insists on forgiveness without any limits (Mt 18, 21-22). Then he gives the motive in the parable of the servant and his debtors (Mt 18, 23-35). The Christian is always in need of God’s forgiveness, and should give to his neighbour what he himself needs from God.

Mt 18, 21-22 imposes the duty to forgive our brother without limit. At first sight, the episode does not seem to fit in well with the previous one which lays down a disciplinary procedure that extends to excommunication of the sinner. But if we understand it correctly, there is no contradiction. Fraternal correction is guided by love of the sinner (cf. Lev 19, 17-18). The one who exercises discipline in the community must be able to forgive when his efforts to correct are unsuccessful. Bearing this in mind, forgiving a brother, according to Jesus, does not imply disregard for the sinner in the community, which is, after all, the place where the Risen Lord is present. It must therefore live according to the Lord’s will and not by its own arbitrary judgment.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Hearing that he must forgive, Peter was willing to forgive anyone who offended him … up to seven times! His “generosity” was no small thing, but it had a limit.  In a society where interpersonal relations were ruled by the law of “a tooth for a tooth” it was exceptional to find someone declaring himself ready to forgive, not once, but seven times. Jesus, however, is not satisfied with that level of generosity! He demands forgiveness, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven). He does not allow Peter to set any limits to forgiveness. Jesus is asking the disciple who understood him best to be ready to forgive more and to put no limit to his forgiveness. What Jesus demands of his disciples is simply impossible and unthinkable. It could even seem “dishonest”. Does it not seem that if we forgive always, we leave the offence in the hands of the transgressor? If someone who offends a Christian can count on unconditional forgiveness, is this not supporting injustice? Does it not mean that the transgression is perpetuated? And yet, incredible as it may seem, Jesus, without giving thought to the consequences, hopes that his disciples will forgive without measure. He asks for nothing less than forgiveness that is unmeasured and beyond reason, forgiveness without limit.

The parable that follows, by way of example and warning, shows clearly that this is what Jesus wants. One who has sinned but does not forgive others cannot expect God to forgive his sins. We can expect from God what we are willing to grant to others. We should not think that God will forget our offences if we do not forget our neighbour’s offence. One day God will treat us as we treat our neighbour, day in and day out. This is not a pleasant teaching, but we have been warned.  The servant succeeded in begging pardon of his master for the huge debt he had incurred. We must learn to do the same, if our guilt is to be wiped out and our sin forgiven. Anyone who has availed of God’s forgiveness, or expects to obtain forgiveness, has no right to demand that his neighbour pay his debts and make recompense.  The Christian who is always in need of God’s forgiveness, owes forgiveness always to his brother. To expect that God should overlook what we owe him, while we, at the same time, demand payment from our debtors, is putting at risk the forgiveness we have already received, and our friendship with God.

In the parable, Jesus describes the anger and rage of the king who forgave the debt of his servant, when he discovered that the servant did not follow his example of generosity. We can understand the divine anger and the decision of God to change his mind when he realizes that his mercy and his forgiveness have not borne fruit in our lives. Can we not see that we are already condemning ourselves without remission when we fail to forgive our neighbour, despite the fact that we have been forgiven many times by God? We should take Jesus’ warning more seriously. It is not enough to turn to God and ask his forgiveness, if our neighbour who has offended us finds us unwilling to forgive him. God will withdraw the pardon already granted. God does not show himself our Father if we, his sons, do not treat each other as brothers.

Unfortunately, this is what often happens in our lives. Despite all our efforts to turn to God, whenever we ask for pardon, and whenever we have been shown mercy, we lose his friendship and forgiveness by our unwillingness to grant pardon to those who ask it of us, or those who need it, even if they don’t ask. We make God our enemy, as the servant in the parable changed his master into an enemy, because we are unwilling to become friends of those who have offended us. As long as we regard others as debtors, we remain in debt to God. Our lack of forgiveness towards our brother is more serious than the offences we have committed against God. We can count on God’s mercy for the sins we have committed, but our sins fall back on us if we refuse to forgive those who have offended us. If we want to limit our offences, we cannot put any limit to the forgiveness we offer our neighbour. It is upon this, and not on the gravity of our sins, that our eternal happiness depends. We do well not to forget this!

If we want God’s forgiveness, we must ask for it by forgiving those who have offended us. This is precisely what Jesus meant, when he taught us to ask God’s forgiveness by declaring our willingness to forgive those who sin against us.  We will know for certain that God has forgiven our debt, only when we forgive from our hearts the debts that others have contracted with us. God wants the forgiveness he extends to us to generate in us a willingness to forgive and forget the offences committed against us. Forgiveness is not just forgetting the offence but considering it as if it had never happened. Unless it produces in us the will to forgive, God’s pardon remains ineffective. God does not tolerate one who does not learn from his generosity, who thinks only of receiving but refuses to give. When God forgives us he wants to free us from our sin and convert us to forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is in vain when the one he forgives refuses to forgive others. God does not forgive one who does not follow his example of generosity.

It follows then that if we make excuses for not forgiving our brother, and put a barrier of un-forgiveness between him and us, we remain isolated from God and cut off from his love. It is true that the commandment to forgive without limit is almost impossible, but unless we forgive we put at risk the greatest treasure we have, the limitless mercy of God our Father. If we try to forgive we discover that it is not as difficult as we thought. Only one who has been forgiven is able to forgive, and only when we forgive our debtors do we know that we have been forgiven.

PRAYER

Look upon us, Lord, creator and ruler of the whole world:
give us grace to serve you with all our heart
that we may come to know the power of your forgiveness and love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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Forgiveness