24th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Do you think St. Peter thought he was being extremely generous when he suggested that forgiving someone even times was enough?  If so, he must have been disappointed by the answer.  Jesus says they must forgive seventy-seven times.  And it is not as if he means keep checking off offences until the 78th and then giving it to the other guy is an option.  No, as seven is a sign of completeness then 77 is kind of utter completeness as if that was possible.

Then Jesus, in a brilliant two part story, explains why it is always necessary to always forgive in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  In it, he presents two worlds, one of mercy and compassion and one of unforgiveness.  Both have a price to pay, but only one way offers freedom.

A desperate man is brought before his Master because he owes him a ridiculous amount:  ten thousand talents!  Clearly unable to pay it back, the Master is prepared to sell him, his wife and property.  The debtor begs, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.”  As our God often does, the Master gives than he asks for.  He forgives all his debts!

Now there is a price to pay for the Master.   To begin with, there are the ten-thousand talents the Master will never see.  There is a perception that he might be soft and his business associates might take advantage of him.  But all this he sacrifices so that other might be free. His mercy provides hope where there was only despair, new life where death was lurking. The world of mercy has its price but its rewards have the potential to be everlasting.

On the way home, the newly forgiven man meets someone who owes him a much smaller debt.  Rather than recalling the compassion he had been shown by the master, he gives into his fear and anger.  He has almost lost everything because of this guy and maybe many others like him.  He literally chokes him due to his rage and has him placed in jail.  Despite the mercy shown him, the unforgiving servant reacts without pity or humanity.  He will feed only his righteous anger and strict justice.  He will not pay forward the kindness shown to him.  The world of justice without mercy allows darkness and fear to rule over us.  When we seek the way of unforgiveness is to choose never to be moved by consolation, hope or light.  It seeks isolation, fear and is fueled by an anger that must always burn bright.

You know Jesus did not just say this stuff.  What he preached became his life.  He forgave Peter for dening him three times and invited him to lead the church.  He forgave those who killed him.  He understood forgiveness the best way possible – from a broken heart.

When we face the amazing stories of forgiveness in the readings, I often think that no one has ever hurt me so much that I cannot forgive. But I have seen those who have.  People hurt so deeply that I could not imagine wanting to wake up from their nightmare.  And some never do.  Some hold on to their hurt or as Sirach notes, the hug tight their wrath and anger.  They cultivate their injury and refuse to allow the light to heal it.  Instead, they merely count the darkness, as if it could be counted.

Then there are those who have chosen the light.  They have mourned and known their anger, but they would not dwell there.  They have never forgotten the compassion their God has shown them and they share it with others, insisting on life that is integral, caring and joyous.  And they are my heroes.

For those who know great hurt, forgiveness does not and should not come quickly.  It is a process; it is a labor.  But they recall God’s infinite mercy and they follow the path of Jesus and teach us what it really means to forgive.  One cannot follow Christ and not forgive.  To be a disciple is to forgive.