FIRST READING (Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.)
A reading from the Book of Sirach (27:30-28:7)
Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. (Ps 103:8)
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (R)
He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills, redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)
He will not always chide, nor does he keep his wrath forever. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes. (R)
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us. (R)
SECOND READING (Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (14:7-9)
Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Jn 13:34)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord; love one another as I have loved you. (R)
GOSPEL (I say to you, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (18:21-35)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“… Unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.. ”
The theme of last week’s Scripture readings was about “correction,” – something we love to do to others but that we don’t really like to receive when it is directed at us. The theme for today’s readings is the other side of this: it is about something we all like to RECEIVE but find very hard to do – to FORGIVE others.
We all know how hard it is to say that we are sorry when we have offended someone else – and truly mean it. But we also have experienced how it may be even harder to forgive when we have been offended. And yet, we promise to do this every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is the foundational prayer of our faith, and we pray it often, but we may not fully understand the challenge to which we commit ourselves every time we recite these words.
Our Judeo-Christian faith is built on the foundational virtue of forgiveness. Our first reading from the Book of Sirach gives a deep reflection on forgiveness. And in the Gospel, the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the wicked servant stems from the concept of forgiveness in the Jewish tradition. Sirach instructs the people of his time, “Forgive your neighbour’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” The writer here knew that anger and vengeance can erode the spirit of anyone who keeps these attitudes in their heart; but forgiveness and mercy have the power to heal not only the offender but the one offended as well. The writer of Sirach also questions the virtue of one who asked for mercy and forgiveness, but who refused to grant these to others. This is at the very hart of the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
But what is new and unique here is that Jesus insists we cannot put a limit on forgiveness. Peter asked, “How often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” The common teaching at that time required that one forgive someone who offends you at least three times, Peter must have thought that seven times – a number that signifies completeness in the Hebrew culture – would be a very generous gesture. But Jesus startles Peter with his response: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” With these words, Jesus expresses firmly that there can be no limit to the number of times we must be willing to forgive. This does not mean that we “forgive and forget.” No, we must not forget for the simple reason of not repeating the offense – to learn from our mistakes.
Both Sirach and the Gospel exhort us to forgive because we too are “but flesh” and so we are weak human beings who need to seek God’s forgiveness. And it is precisely because of this weak human condition that Jesus then sets out his parable for us, a parable whose lesson teaches us so clearly that what God has forgiven of us far outweighs what we are asked to forgive of each other.
This teaching of Jesus is very much against the common wisdom of today’s thinking. Many people continue to carry resentments towards others even from their childhood – long-standing vendettas that could be against parents, friends, relatives. Father than do what we can to resolve the cause of these differences, we seem to want to wallow in depths of anger and rage that really only damage ourselves.
A simple traffic misunderstanding can end up in road rage; a difference of view of politics or laws can end up in shouting matches and riots. Look around us today. What has happened to us? Why are we so unable to forgive the human weaknesses of others? Yet, this is what Jesus calls us to do – what he expects from us. It is not to tell us to put aside justice. Society should require order, the rule of law, and as a consequence, the sanctions that seek to ensure this for the greater good. However, so many offenses are really due to oversight, not willful malice of intent – at least we hope.
And yet, how to we forgive some of the most egregious sinful behavior of others – such as those who harm innocent children, or those who destroy the reputation of others, or those who commit murder? Just a few days ago we commemorated “9/11” and the question remains for many – how do we forgive terrorists who destroy the lives of innocent people? How can we forgive those who disappoint us? Who betray our trust? Who deceive and mock us?
And yet, we should never forget the example of heroic individuals who are able to move beyond hatred and vengeance to embrace GENUINE FORGIVENESS. Those saints and holy men and women – often just ordinary people living day by day God’s forgiveness who are able to generously, magnanimously and unreservedly forgive, “as we forgive those who trespass against us,” each day, every day. Can we, dare we be among them?
Brothers and sisters, the lesson to forgive is not pointless or impossible to achieve. If we cannot yet forgive, at least we can try to rid our hearts of vengeance, for that festering cancer of seething rage and anger will do more harm to us than to those who we hate. If we cannot forgive crimes that have been perpetrated against us, we can certainly try to make every effort to forgive the petty mistakes of others. Can we learn to make amends when impatience flares up, or when frustration overwhelms us or others? Can we truly and sincerely forgive serious offenses by learning to first take small steps overlooking slights and cutting them off from turning into something more sinister?
The more we can learn to forgive others, the more we will become like God who so generously, so magnanimously, and so unreservedly forgives us, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.!” Because each of us has – more than likely – already been forgiven far more than we shall ever be asked to forgive.
Celebrant: Brothers and sisters, every day we pray that God will forgive us our sins as we are prepared to forgive our neighbour. In our intentions today, let us seek the mercy of God who forgives.
READER: For the Church, for forgiveness and mercy within her ranks, that anger may be put aside and love for one another may prevail, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For men and women skilled in the art of diplomacy to diffuse global tension, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For the gift of gentleness toward others, not returning evil for evil but striving for that compassion and love that we hope for from the Lord, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For those who cannot forgive and forget, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: May we continue to be moved by the sense of Christ’s presence among us, reflecting his teaching, and witnessing to the love and compassion of Christ in how we treat one another, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For the forgiveness of the sins of those who have died, as well as for the prayers that we bring before the Lord in our hearts today, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Kind and merciful Father, slow to anger and rich in compassion, grant our petitions, through Christ, our Lord. (all) AMEN.