REMEMBERING TO FORGIVE
(A biblical reflection on the 24th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 13 September 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
First Reading: Sirach 27:30-28:9; Psalms: Psalm 103:1-4,9-12; Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
The Scripture Text
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servants fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 RSV)
In today’s Gospel Matthew continues to deal with relations between Christians, focusing on the need for forgiveness between members of community. Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his brother, then answers his own question by suggesting seven time.
The Jewish tradition taught that God forgive three times and punishes on the fourth occasion; it was not believed that injured people could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times. According to that tradition Peter’s measure is generous; but according to Jesus it is radically insufficient. In His reply Jesus reverses the old law of vengeance: “If Cain is to be avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech is to be avenged seventy and seven-fold: (Genesis 4:24). Just as in the old days there was no limit to hatred and vengeance, so among Christians there is to be no limit to mercy and forgiveness.
The parable of the unforgiving official is told in order to underline the need for forgiveness. When a king calls his court officials to audit the accounts, one shows a deficiency of ten thousand talents, a colossal sum of money. The sum is deliberately extravagant, running into millions of dollars, to heighten the contrast with the few dollar owed to the official. When the king orders the sale of the debtor and his family into slavery, the officials for time. The king feels sorry for him and decides to remit the whole of the vast debt. The official, however, learns nothing from his experience, for he refuses to give a colleague time to pay a trifling debt; instead, he has him thrown into prison. When this heartless behavior is reported to the king, the grant of full forgiveness is retracted and the unforgiving official is thrown to the tortures.
Apart from anything else, the unforgiving official is condemned for loss of memory. Forgetfulness of our own sins leads to lac of compassion; remembering how our sins have gone unpunished by God should lead us to forgive others. Through forgetfulness of God’s compassion, we can end up becoming cruel to each other. That is why at the beginning of each Eucharist we are invited to be mindful of our own sins (Confiteor). Only when we do that can we pray the “Our Father”: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The purpose of calling our sins to mind is not to paralyze us, but to remind us that we all live in the gracious forgiveness of God. To forget that is theological suicide. Whoever we are, we remember our sins because we need to remember always to forgive.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for Your death, which has brought me life. May all sinners know Your mercy and forgiveness. Grant us the strong memory that we are actually sinners who need forgiveness from You. For that we need to forgive others who sin against us. May our voices be one in praising You forever! Amen.
Jakarta, 11 September 2020
A Christian Pilgrim