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IF WE REFUSE TO FORGIVE, GOD WILL NOT FORGIVE US
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 24th Sunday of the Year, September 17, 2017
Sirach 27:30-28:7, Psalm 102, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 18:21-35


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted

 

"Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven'" (Matthew 18:21-22).


Today's readings are clearly about forgiveness - how God has forgiven us, and how we therefore should forgive others.


Peter wants to know how many times we should forgive those who offend us. Most people would probably say two or three times is enough, so Peter really gets generous and asks whether seven times is enough. Jesus then completely blows Peter out of the ballpark by saying that we should forgive others seventy times seven times. This is clearly a fantastic figure. It means that we should always forgive personal offenses.


Those who harm the Christian community by teaching false doctrine and false morality are another matter. In that case Jesus tells us that we should give them only three chances. We should warn them three times, and if they don't correct themselves, then we should consider them as a Gentile or a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17). But in terms of merely personal offenses, he tells us today, our forgiveness should be unlimited. We should forgive them seventy times seven times.


Jesus then tells a parable to illustrate how God has forgiven us and how we therefore should forgive others:


A slave owes a king ten thousand talents. A silver talent is fifteen years' wages of a laborer. So this is a fantastic debt that surely no slave in real life could ever actually owe a king. The slave begs for time to pay it off. This too seems unlikely. How could he ever pay off such a debt? His master then orders him, his family, and his possessions to be sold to pay off the debt. Again, how could this pay off such a fantastic debt? It was impossible for him to pay it. But when he begs for mercy, the king writes off his entire debt.


This is, of course, a parable about us. We are this slave, and God is the king. We have a fantastic debt with God for our sins and have no way we can ever pay it. At our death we will be punished in hell for all eternity for our sins and never get out. So we cannot pay the debt and still be saved. Therefore we beg God for mercy and put our faith in him, and he sends us his Son to suffer for us the debt of punishment that we owe God in all justice for our sins so that the all-just God can justly acquit us of our sins and set us free, canceling our entire debt, when we put our faith in his Son's saving work on the cross, where he paid our debt for us.


Now back to the parable. This slave, with tremendous relief for being forgiven this fantastic debt, goes out from the king's presence a free man. He then meets a fellow slave who owes him one hundred denarii (one hundred days' wages of a laborer). You would think that he would have mercy on his fellow slave who owes him a quite reasonable sum. But he doesn't. He throws him into the debtor's prison, even though he begged for mercy and for time to pay his debt.


When the king heard about this, he summoned him and said, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (Matthew 18:32-33). The king then gave him over to the torturers until he paid his full debt. Clearly he would be tortured for the rest of his life, because he could not pay the debt.


And what is the moral of this parable for us? This slave's debt was restored to him after being canceled. In other words, he lost his salvation by refusing to forgive the debt of his fellow slave. And we will lose our salvation that God has so mercifully granted us if we do not also forgive others who have offended us.


Jesus' final comment is, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35). We must forgive our brother from our heart seventy times seven times for his offenses against us. If we don't, our own fantastic debt for our own sins will be restored to us, and our salvation will be revoked and lost.


Sometimes we can take offense from a person who in no way intends to offend us. He may even be trying to please us and be friendly with us, but we can reject this person because we simply don't like him for some reason or other. This makes us like this slave who has been forgiven a fantastic debt but who refuses to forgive his fellow slave who owes him a relatively paltry sum in comparison to what he himself has been forgiven. As a result, his forgiven debt comes back to him, and he is no longer forgiven. If we do not forgive those who have offended us, the same thing will happen to us. God will revoke his forgiveness of us for our fantastic debt that we have with him for our sins, and we will lose our salvation.


How many people go around miserable and depressed, almost always feeling guilty and alienated from God for their sins? Why aren't they at peace? Why do they always carry on their back such a heavy burden of guilt for their sins? Why don't they feel forgiven? Why isn't their burden removed from their back? And this even happens to Christians who come to Christ with faith, begging for forgiveness?


I think it is because they hold grudges against other people for relatively minor offenses in comparison with their own offenses against God and refuse to forgive these people from their heart. I think it is because their debt has been restored to them by God for not forgiving their brother from their heart. So they are laboring under a heavy burden of guilt for their own sins, a burden that God wanted to relieve them of if only they would forgive the offenses of their brother that they continue to hold against him.


This is why Jesus tells us, "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).


If we want to be forgiven, we must forgive seventy times seven times. Our forgiveness must be unlimited. "If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). God gives us a great motivation for doing this, namely to get our own burden of guilt removed from us.


Today's first reading from Sirach clearly expresses the point of today's parable:


"Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins? If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, who will make expiation for his sins?" (Sirach 28:2-5).


God wants to forgive us. He wants to forgive our fantastic debt and free us of our burden of guilt that so weighs down our spirit and depresses us, but we block him from doing so by refusing to forgive our brother for his offenses against us. Forgive him from your heart so that God can free you from the burden of your own guilt that weighs you down.


Remember, "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get" (Matthew 7:2). If you want to feel forgiven by God, you must forgive your brother his offenses against you. If you don't, the Lord will do to you what the king did to his slave who refused to forgive his fellow slave. He will hand you over to the torturers - he will let you be tortured by guilt. "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).

 

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