Forgive and You Shall Be Forgiven

by Edmond Lo
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Romans 14:7-9

Matthew 18:21-35

Imagine bringing with you an order of steaks from the Keg and a Swiss Chalet Rotisserie chicken to visit a friend who is known to be a life-long vegetarian. Do you think your vegetarian friend would happily receive you and your meaty meals? Probably not. In fact, you can’t blame him if he takes offence at what you do. The problem with the behavior in this imaginary case is that it is both inconsiderate and disrespectful. It’s a complete disregard for your vegetarian friend’s needs and lifestyle – almost a slap in the face.

The irony is that the same offence that we will take every precaution not to commit against anyone out of respect for people is somehow being committed by us against God again and again!

We know very well Jesus’ teaching is for us to forgive. In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus asks Peter to forgive people “seventy-seven times”, which means limitless forgiveness and mercy (Mt. 18:21-22, see Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). Earlier in the same gospel of Matthew, he reminds us that we cannot come into God’s presence unreconciled with people, be they our friends or enemies (cf. Mt 5:23-26). And yet most of the time, unreconciled are our hearts when we come before God. We are constantly holding grudges against people whom we think have wronged us. It’s like we just can’t help ourselves. Sometimes we basically choose to conveniently forget Jesus’ teaching, and refuse to let go of the resentments in our hearts. Our offence against Jesus in this regard is very similar to the behavior in the above-mentioned imaginary case. It’s a complete disregard for his position – a defiant, in-your-face offence.

Although this goes completely against God’s teaching, we don’t seem to be bothered by our disrespectful and defiant behavior. (Talk about hardness of heart!) We continue to go about our business in God’s presence – praying, worshipping, participating in liturgies, even receiving communion - acting nonchalant and pretending our unforgiving hearts somehow don’t really matter to God.

This is actually quite absurd to think about it. But it’s also very real. I remember witnessing in church a person who turned around to swear at the little boy behind her for pushing her while waiting in line for communion. The poor little child could only recoil in fear and sought protection from his mom. Satisfied that she had taught the unruly little boy a lesson, the irate woman then turned around toward the eucharistic minister, crossed herself and “peacefully” entered into communion with Christ and the Church. How ironic or, shall we say, comical! She might not realize the little boy, whom she scolded mercilessly, and his mom were just as much a part of the Church communion that she had just entered into through the Eucharist as she was.

In recalling this unpleasant incident, I realize how incredibly forgiving God is - just like the master in Jesus’ parable. As mentioned in the responsorial Psalm, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion” (Ps 103:8). It also helps me to truly understand how incredibly unforgiving we are - just like the servant in Jesus’ parable. Whatever it was that this angry woman could not forgive – perhaps the child’s crankiness, perhaps her dress was made dirty when the child pushed her – it couldn’t have been more serious than her own sins which Jesus had already forgiven generously. No wonder Jesus warns us not to see the splinter in a person’s eye and, at the same time, fail to notice the wooden beam in our own eye (cf. Mt 7:3)!