Freed by forgiving

Today's gospel scripture Matthew 18:21-35

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Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"

Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;
and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.

So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.'

Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'

But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, 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 slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?'

And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

Matthew 18:21-35

It’s a challenging passage assigned for today from the gospel.

 

Peter asks, “How many times am I to forgive someone who sins against me? Seven?”

 

Jesus replies “Not seven but seventy-seven.”

 

The reference to seventy-seven indicates that you should forgive many, many times. I think in previous translations of the Bible, it said seventy times seven. Anyway, seventy-seven would be heard as meaning many, many times. Seven was a special number.

 

Then Jesus goes on to tell a parable of how one slave begged his master to be forgiven of not having re-paid his debt with the promise that he would pay over a longer period. The master decided to forgive that debt in full perhaps because he was moved by the servant’s circumstances and his authentic contrition.

 

The parable goes on then to describe how that same servant did not show the same compassion to a fellow slave who owed him a debt.

 

As the story continues, others were dismayed by such behaviour and told the master. The master was appalled and handed him over to be tortured until he could finally pay his own original debt. A hard thing to do while under constant torture, I’d say.

 

 And a hard point in the parable to explore in a homily.

 

***

 

Well, it seems to me that Jesus’ parable – as is occasionally the case – is a hyperbole. It relies on exaggeration to make a point and it makes the point in a way that most definitely gets the reader’s or the listener’s attention. In the story we can readily see the master as a personification of God the Father. So the inference is to be very careful because God will get you. It almost instills a sense of fear. Punishment can be swift and severe.

 

Now the problem is how does one reconcile all of that with a loving God and Father.

 

I think it’s like this. I think it is a story, an example. A story perhaps not that different from what a loving, wise grandfather could say to a young child or grandchild. A loving grandfather could use a similar kind of story in a similar manner.

 

Say that there was a shed out behind the cottage where the grandfather kept all his tools. A lot of them were sharp and dangerous if the grandchild happened to explore the shed while alone without guidance.

 

And, so the wise grandfather might say to his grandchild, ”Don’t ever go in there on your own. There is a wicked witch of the north who lives in there and if you’re ever in there by yourself, she’ll get you and eat you up. So, don’t go in there ever unless I’m with you.”

 

I’m sure that admonishment would get the attention of a young, wide-eyed grandchild and she’d pay attention to what her grandfather had warned and remember it.

 

I think the passage today is similar. It’s meant to get our attention and to impress how essential it is to be forgiving. We know about being forgiven. We can easily identify with the first servant. And so we should know about forgiving. Perhaps we don’t always remember that. But when we think back to it, we do know what it’s like to be forgiven because we know how that feels for us.

 

It’s not that our Father in Heaven is the wicked witch or wizard in the sky. It’s that Jesus’ story is to remind us that it really is all about being forgiven and that it is essential for us to also to forgive others.

 

Forgiveness is what’s called for. Forgiveness – a state of letting go.

 

Even if the person is likely to do that same thing to you again in the future, forgiveness includes not putting yourself back in that same situation in the future. And, it does mean letting go of the hurt. The person who has somehow injured you receives mercy and compassion by your forgiving them, through your forgiveness.

 

Think about this too:  ultimately it’s the person who forgives who also benefits by being freed from the hurt of having been injured. For you and I as servants, it’s a two-way state of Grace. The point is to remember that we’re forgiven. We're forgiven because we’re forgivable and so is another person, who has done us some wrong, forgivable. So ultimately, as I say, it is we who benefit in being set free through our forgiving someone else.

 

So how many times are we to forgive a person who causes us hurt or injury? Seventy-seven times?

 

Yes … But, you don’t have to count them. It just means many, many, many, many times. Just how a loving God and Father in Heaven treats each of us. Just as he forgives us. As we are freed by being forgiven, we also are freed by forgiving others. That’s the message from the parable today.

 

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

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