24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The theme of today’s liturgy is clear: we must forgive others if we wish God to forgive us. Peter thought he was generous when he proposed seven times as a good example of generosity in forgiveness. The Lord tells him he hasn’t even begun to forgive.
The theme of today’s liturgy is clear: we must forgive others if we wish God to forgive us. Both the first and third readings today stress that forgivers are forgiven; that is, God can only forgive us if we forgive those who offend us. Today’s Gospel speaks clearly and concisely about the quantity of forgiveness. Peter thought he was generous to propose seven times as a good example of generosity in forgiveness. But Jesus tells him he hasn’t even begun to forgive. God is extravagant, lavish, in mercy. God expects us to behave in like manner. toward those who have sinned against us.
Only we can never equal God’s generosity. But we had better try. That’s what God wants of us: a “seventy times seven” spirit of forgiveness.
Forgiveness without end. Jesus’ advice to forgive 70 times 7 is more than a mere figure of speech. When we live in close contact with others -whether in marriage, work, or as neighbors- we must literally give pardon at least 490 times in order to keep peace and remain on good terms. Forgiveness, like love, has no restrictions placed upon it. Don’t try to count the times; just keep forgiving. In imitation of the Father, I have to forgive everybody, everything, all the time. That is as close as I come to being like the Father.
After settling the quantity aspect of forgiveness, Jesus goes on to tell a story about the terrible consequences of not forgiving another. It’s the story of a man who was very good at begging mercy for himself, but was very poor at extending mercy to others. The parable of The Merciless Steward tells us that God’s willingness to forgive us depends on our willingness to forgive others. The unforgiving are excluded from God’s mercy. The moral of the story is simple: Forgive, because you have been forgiven. If we do not forgive we cannot expect to be forgiven. It’s a package deal -forgive and be forgiven. Being forgiven is not available as a separate item. Forgiveness only comes in pairs. God is ready to forgive all sins but one: the sin of not forgiving. That he cannot forgive, because it is a sin against the Holy Spirit, through whom forgiveness comes (St Th. Aquinas).
We still might ask, “Why should I forgive others?” Today’s first reading presents several reasons for extending a private amnesty to others. The main reason is that it is the nature of God to forgive and we should be like him in all ways possible. Imagine begging God’s forgiveness for some sin and hearing him reply, “No, I will never forgive you.” How despairing a situation that would be. Yet that is what we do by our refusal.
Though forgiveness is by no means easy, even from a human point of view, it works wonders both for the person who forgives and for the person who is forgiven. When we forgive, wonderful benefits flow to us. We rid ourselves of the burden of bitterness and resentment. W e experience a great sense of freedom, relief, and cleanliness. And above all, we are set free to devote all our energies to loving once more, which is the supreme activity for a Christian. Also, forgiveness sets the person who is forgiven free from the burden of guilt and remorse. We bring him/her joy and peace. We open the way to understanding and deeper relationships. And, above all, forgiveness clears a path for the forgiveness of God to come through to us. We all need that!