Homily for XXIV (24) Sunday Year A. 13-09-2020 by Fr. Lubem Robert Waya, osj.
*First Reading: Ecclesiasticus 27:33-28:9
Psalm: Psalm 102(103):1-4, 9-12
Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
The Christian God is known with many attributes and possesses many qualities we usually use to describe Him. However, of all of these, the best-known quality of God is that of divine mercy and forgiveness. This is not just because it was the first divine name revealed to Moses on Sinai but the mercy of God is re-echoed throughout scripture and it remains for all humans the most accessible and the most sought face of God. Without God’s mercy no one can approach Him, and that is why psalm 130:3 asks ‘If you o Lord should mark our guilt, Lord who would survive?’ Created in God’s image and likeness we are also called to replicate in our lives His qualities especially this very important quality of Mercy and forgiveness. If we live without forgiving one another then we will perish as Ghandi said ‘an eye for an eye would make the world go blind.’ That is why last Sunday the Lord gave us the procedure for fraternal correction, and today He goes on to show us how to be merciful. By this He reveals to us His very essence as mercy and forgiveness.
In our first reading the wise scribe Ben Sira already in his teaching, anticipates the gospel message of Christ’s parable today on mercy and forgiveness. He says ‘…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.’ These words call to mind some of the most soothing words in scripture we pray in the Lord’s prayer ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:12).’ Saying these words every day at mass is meant to configure us more closely to be merciful and forgiving like God bearing in mind that we are first beneficiaries of His mercy.
Why is it so important that we forgive? Forgiveness is not just a debt we owe one another but forgiveness brings healing and the mercy of God. Holding onto past hurts only keeps us angry and brings more suffering especially for he who refuses to forgive. But when we forgive, we bring healing to the offender and we are also setting ourselves free from bitterness, hurt and pain. There is a twofold healing of forgiveness; to the offender and the offended. William Shakespeare famously expressed this point in his play The Merchant of Venice Act IV scene 1 in Portia’s monologue describing mercy thus; ‘the quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…’ Therefore, to be forgiving is to be Godlike and heavenly like. When we are hurt by someone, we remain bitter and stagnant until we forgive, and once we are able to forgive, then we can move on. This is the lesson we learn from Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant today.
After Christ’s teaching on fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-20 last Sunday, Peter thought just like many of us that it is good to forgive and correct, but not all the time. So, when Christ said we should treat an unrepentant like a Gentile and tax collector, Peter thought that perhaps there was a boundary beyond which it is justifiable not to forgive anymore. And so today he poses the question to Christ, ‘how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Certainly, seven signifies perfection, however Christ answers him in the parable of the unforgiving servant by demonstrating that we must aspire beyond what is perfect according to human standards, to divine standards where perfect forgiveness has no limits. This is the measure that God gives to us and He expects us to replicate it among ourselves. God always forgives us whenever we sin and return to Him with a truly repentant heart. So why can’t we also forgive those who have hurt us? How many times has God forgiven you? Can you even remember the number of times? Is there any time you go to confession and God refuses to wipe away your sins? Unfortunately, some of us cannot remember when last we went to sacramental confession – God’s mercy seat, yet God is still patient with us waiting for us to come and obtain His mercy. Even if we decided to keep a daily diary, no one can remember the number of times God has forgiven his offences. His mercies in our lives are endless. That is why Jesus answers Peter’s question by saying you must forgive not seven times but seventy times seven. Because God is never tired of forgiving us. His forgiveness is not even determined by the size of our sin but by the strength of our repentance.
However, the truth is that many of us are like the first servant in the gospel who owed 10,000 talents. At the time, a talent represented fifteen years of daily wages. This man was in deep financial trouble because he would require working for 150,000 years to offset his huge debt. Interestingly however, the king dismissed this debt and set him free since it was clearly impossible for him to pay. The second servant on the other hand owed this first servant only 100 denarii which was equivalent of 100 days of wages, and nothing compared to what he owed the king. However, he refused showing mercy to this second servant and as a result he also lost the mercy that had been offered him by the master. This is how God forgives each of us yet quite often we find it hard to forgive those who owe us much less than we owe God. As a result, what happened to the first servant is what happens to us. When we refuse to forgive those who wrong us, God will also not forgive the debts that we owe Him.
It is true that mercy is the attribute of God enjoyed most by we humans as scripture attests, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23).’ Yet mercy still remains the most difficult aspect of God to imitate and Christianity’s most challenging teaching. Bearing this in mind, God attaches a reward to it so that when we keep this command, we do not only gain its benefits but we also receive the reward of God’s mercy. No offense from our neighbour can equal the huge debt we owe God for offending Him in many ways, yet He forgives us. St. Paul also reminds us in 1 Corinthians 7:23 that in God’s mercy we were bought with a price which is Jesus’ death on the cross. No one merits mercy but it is a sacred duty incumbent on us to also show mercy to those who have offended us. Mercy is that true face of God’s justice, for without mercy justice is cold, calculating, and even cruel. Let us therefore draw closer to God and ask Him to purify our hearts and help us to show mercy and forgiveness to those who have offended us in the same way He has shown us mercy. Let us ask this especially for those whom we think we cannot forgive. May the Lord help us through Christ our Lord. Amen.