Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7; Rm 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35
Readiness to forgive and healing are the key words that sum up best the message of this Sunday. This Sunday comes only five days after the eleventh anniversary of one of the worst days in the history of the United States. It still makes our blood boil to think of all the innocent people who were killed by the terrorists on 9/11 in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Many in America, sadly, had responded to hate with hate, to anger with anger. True, we have to defend ourselves from terrorists. But we also need to realize that anger can often be misguided. It can easily turn into hatred. Anger can often be responsible for acting in ways that are certainly not the ways of the Lord. Days after the 9/11 terror attacks, a 31-year old man went on a shooting spree in the Dallas Texas area. In a drug-fuelled mission of revenge, he killed two South Asian immigrants and shot another in the face at close range, blinding him in one eye. By a complete co-incidence, the readings today speak about anger and hatred. They offer us one of the most challenging themes of Christian life, namely turning away from anger and forgiving others. The key message is that we cannot receive forgiveness unless we too are ready to forgive our brothers and sisters. The first reading from the Book of Sirach links forgiveness to our prayer life. “Forgive your neighbour the wrong he does to you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven”. If we want to be forgiven by the Lord, we too must forgive others. In other words, we cannot demand forgiveness from the Lord while we still nurse anger and bad feelings against our neighbour. We must first be reconciled, and let go our anger and resentment. To underline this theme, the responsorial Psalm portrays a kind and merciful God. “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion”.
This is precisely the central point of Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant in the Gospel. Jesus uses the parable in order to draw a direct contrast between the unforgiving servant, and the Father who always forgives. “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion”. In the parable, Jesus urges us to forgive others, not just three times as the Law prescribed, nor even seven times as Peter was proposing, but seventy, seven times, which means always. The Message in this parable is extremely relevant for many regions of the world torn apart by bitter memories of past wrongs and failure to forgive. It is particularly relevant to us in America as we remember the bitter events of 9/11. The Gospel challenges us to do the unthinkable, namely, to forgive those who have wronged us not once, but always. The Lord knows how much we may have suffered or even humiliated, but he asks us to pardon, forgive and be reconciled. The fact that there are human rights violations or oppression, does not justify taking up arms in revenge, but calls us to dare to be different by doing the unthinkable; it calls us to forgive and to be reconciled. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We cannot demand forgiveness from the Lord while we still nurse anger and bad feelings against our neighbour 2) The Gospel challenges us to do the unthinkable, namely to forgive those who have wronged us not once, but always. 3) May this day be a great moment of grace in each parish and family for healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.
©2017 John S. Mbinda