TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Forgiveness without Limit
First Reading: Sir 27: 33-28:9):Do not harbor anger but like God be merciful toward others
Second Reading (Rom 14: 7-9): Live and die for the Lord
Gospel: (Mt 18: 21-35): The way of forgiveness
-“A big belly has a great capacity, Holding the most difficult things in this world; The kind faces always smile, Smiling at the laughable people on earth. “(1)
Today's Scripture reading elaborates on a crucial aspect of our Catholic faith: forgiveness. To pardon is by no means easy. In the Bible the notion of forgiveness is revealed gradually.
The Old Testament records that in early times people could retaliate as often as they were offended, almost without limit (Gen 4:24). In such circumstances God said that human beings could take revenge no more than seven times or seven-fold. As one was allowed to seek vengeance seven-fold, as time went on it was stated in the Bible that there should be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In such a milieu 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?” In a time when the common understanding was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to forgive seven times was already very tolerant and generous. However, what Jesus said to him was, “Not seven times but I tell you, seventy –seven times.”
‘Seventy times seven’ means countless times. In Scripture, the number ‘seven’ indicates completeness, a multitude, and so seventy times seven stands for a perfect, an infinite number. That is to say, we should wholeheartedly forgive all people at all times, without limit.
When Jesus talked about forgiveness, he told an astounding parable: a servant owed a king ten thousand pieces of gold coins. The debt was far beyond what an ordinary man could pay back even if the king ordered him, his wife, his children, and all his possessions to be sold off as repayment. The servant thus knelt and begged, Lord, please pardon me. I will pay back everything I owe. The king felt sorry for him and remitted the entire debt.
As the servant stepped out he met a fellow servant who owed him merely one hundred pieces of silver coins. He strangled his debtor and forced him to repay the money. In the same way his fellow servant begged for clemency “Have patience with me and I will pay all.” He refused and, instead jailed the poor man till the debt was paid.
When the other servants saw what had happened they were greatly distressed and went and reported to the king what had taken place. The king summoned the first servant and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-servant as I had mercy on you?” And in anger the king handed him over to be tortured until he should pay the entire debt.
Jesus’ conclusion was, “ So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ”(Mt 18: 2l-35)
In the Book of Sirach God said the same thing, ”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 someone has no mercy towards another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins?”(Sir 28: 2-4)
The succeeding verses remind us to bear in mind these points when we forgive others. First, think of our own last days and set aside any hatred that may remain. Second, remember that we are destined to die and decompose, and live according to the commandments. Third, remember the commandments of God and do not be angry with your neighbors. Fourth, think of the covenant of God the Most High and forgive others’ faults. (see Sir 28: 5 – 9).
The Bible reminds us that we will inevitably die one day. One day our eyes will close, our toes turn up and all our earthly affairs come to an end. Do old scores really matter then? Will your enemy feel the pain if you whip his corpse? Even if he feels pain of what good is it to you?
Some people hold a grudge till they enter the grave and worse still, there are some who want their descendants to take their revenge generation after generation. They really want their enmity to last forever.
We should engrave God’s commandments on our hearts. God asks us to forgive one another and refrain from anger of others. If God so unconditionally forgives us, what reasons can we possibly have to hold hatred in our hearts? Therefore we should always forgive and forgive without limit.
Jesus did not only instruct us to forgive but he lived according to his own teaching. Nailed to the cross and pierced by a crown of thorns, unable to raise his head and look to the sky, he gazed at the people cursing and mocking him below, and with no hatred in his heart, gently said, “Forgive them, Father! They do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus asks us to model ourselves on our merciful heavenly Father, God who is always tolerant, who like the sun and rain, shines and moistens alike all peoples of the earth.
The Chinese seldom talk about forgiveness, but they often talk about tolerating others. An example is this couplet: “A big belly has a great capacity, Holding the most difficult things in this world; The kind faces always smile, Smiling at the laughable people on earth.” (1) If we can tolerate others we will find it easier to forgive them.
Jesus said something else that is worth our remembering: If we cannot forgive our brother from our heart, our Father in heaven will treat us likewise. The Lord’s Prayer also reminds us, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
None of us can avoid offending others occasionally. But we must cultivate a climate, an atmosphere of faith, a willingness to forgive one another, so that there is always the possibility of starting anew.