Forgive and You Shall Be Forgiven

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Romans 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

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)!

Posted: September 13, 2020

Edmond Lo

As a Catholic speaker, writer and RCIA Catechist, Edmond is very active in promoting and defending the Catholic faith. He has a MBA, a CPA-CMA, and a MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from U.T., St. Augustine's Seminary. Having worked many years as the CFO of a non-profit organization, he retired at 55 to follow his special vocation of evangelization. The activities he conducts include the CMCC Bible Study Program, the Catechism Revisited Program, the FLL Spiritual Formation Program, Living in the Holy Tradition, RCIA, family groups and retreats, etc. Edmond is a member of the FLL Core Team. He writes Sunday Mass reflections regularly for the weekly FLL NewSpiration. His personal blog:

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