By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
The opening words of today’s second reading (Rom 14:7), that “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself…” are very powerful words indeed. Though used in the context of our relationship with the Lord, they are also very instructive and useful in our relationship with one another, for indeed, we are entangled in the common web of humanity, that what we do have implications, not only for ourselves, but also for others. Ultimately also, most of what we do have implications for us in the sight of God. The readings of today’s Mass, more precisely the first and gospel readings, present us with one of such things: forgiveness.
The first reading tells us in very plain terms that those who take vengeance will suffer vengeance at the hands of God, and those who refuse to forgive have no moral right to ask God for forgiveness. It enjoins us to forgive the wrong others have done to us that we may receive forgiveness from God at the place of prayer. One obvious implication of this admonition is that an unforgiving mind is an obstacle to our prayers. It ended on the note of directing our minds to the end of our life, that time when we shall be utterly helpless without the mercy of God.
In the gospel text, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive an erring brother. Going beyond the conventional three times, as deduced from the Book of Prophet Amos to be the number of times God forgives sins, after which he punishes the fourth time (cf. Amos 1 & 2), Peter magnanimously multiplies this by two, and then adds one. To his surprise and that of everybody, Jesus says it is not seven times, but seventy times seven times. Of course nobody wants to be counting offences up to 490 times, so by implication, Jesus says there should be no limit to forgiveness. That was when he told the parable of the unforgiving servant to explain his point.
A deep reflection, and an understanding of the measures Jesus used in the parable to compare our debt to God and other people’s debt to us will overwhelm us. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents while his colleague owed him 100 denarii. One denarius is a small silver coin, which is the pay for a day’s job; one talent on the other hand, is a bar of gold, which is what a labourer will earn in 15 years. So, 100 denarii will be the wage for 100 days of labour while 10, 000 talents will be 10,000 x 15 years, amounting to 150,000 years’ worth of labour. Now, that’s mind blowing! So, while the second servant can pay his debt with 15 weeks of labour, the first, unforgiving servant, will never be able to pay his debt if he worked all his lifetime, since he will most certainly not live for 150,000 years. That’s how it is between what we owe God by our sins and what people owe us by how they wrong us, for we are the first servant in Jesus’ parable, and our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, colleagues, parents, husbands, wives, children, etc, are the second servant.
Now, we all know that we stand in need of God’s mercy, for Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” If all of us have sinned, then we are all owing God. And in Romans 6:23, the Bible says “the wages of sin is death…” By implication therefore, we all owe God the debt of our lives, and the only reason we are alive is because God has shown us mercy. This is why Jesus tells us that we must forgive those who have offended us, so that God will also gladly forgive us (Mat 6:14-15), and th book of Sirach 28:3 asks, “Can a man harbour resentment against another and yet seek healing from the Lord?” The condition upon which God shall show us mercy is that we have ourselves been merciful first.
Today therefore, God invites us to show mercy to those who have wronged us that we may qualify to receive mercy from him. Without the mercy of God, no one shall enter heaven, and God is saying to us today that he will not grant us that mercy unless we are ourselves merciful. So, it will be a tragedy if after running this race on earth, you stand before God on judgment day and you are denied heaven because you refused to forgive someone some people. Today, God is saying to us that the tragedy of the unforgiving is that they may do well to live good lives, but their unforgiving heart will still land them in hell. Do not let that be your portion; forgive those who offend you, that God may forgive your own sins.