First Reading (Sirach 27.30 – 28.7) Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 103) Second Reading (Romans 14.7 – 9). Gospel (Matthew 18. 21 – 35)

A woman, pushing on in years, boasted to her pastor that she did not have an enemy in the world. He was very impressed. What a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years! And then she added: – ‘I have outlived them all’. I suppose if we live long enough we will also be able to make the same statement.

We have all been hurt in some way or other in the journey of life–made fun of in school by a teacher, not invited to the wedding, didn’t get the job I thought I should have got, or at a more serious level, betrayed by someone you trusted, abused physically or sexually and so on.

By failing to forgive, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else. Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he told how the merciless servant was cast into prison when he refused to forgive his fellow servant. I don’t think he was suggesting that God would cancel his mercy. He is simply saying that an unforgiving spirit creates a prison of its own. It builds up walls of bitterness and resentment and there is no escape until we come to forgive.
Forgiving and letting go is not easy, especially when the wound is very deep. This is why I call forgiveness the ‘F’ word, because it’s not to be used lightly. Forgiveness is a choice and often involves a three stage process: 1. I will never forgive that person 2. I can’t forgive (forgiveness seen as a good thing, but the hurt is too great) 3. I want to forgive and let go with God’s help.

While Pope Benedict XVI was imparting his blessing from the Vatican balcony, a fanatic drew a pistol, aimed at the Pope and pulled the trigger. But the gun did not fire. Guards seized and imprisoned the sniper. Brought before the Pope, the gunman expressed regret that the gun had failed to go off.

The unruffled Pope said: “I’ll tell you why your gun failed. You were in the crowd and I had blessed you also, my son. Return to your home; your wife and children must surely have heard of this and will be worried.”

Every time we sin against God we incur a debt to God, but He cancels all our debt when we ask for His forgiveness. He does not want us to keep grudges against anyone. Though the wicked servant in the parable was freed of all his dues, his unforgiveness brought upon him severe punishment.

Today’s readings touch upon two points. The first reading and the Gospel warn us against all forms of anger, wrath, and hatred against our neighbor. They emphasize the fact that unless we forgive our neighbor we cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness. The second reading speaks highly about the sublime nature of forgiveness.

It was Jesus’ infinite love and mercy that led Him to die for us. His death on the cross not only redeemed us but also united us with God and we became brothers and sisters. We are reminded by St. Paul that, being united in Jesus as brothers and sisters, we must show mercy to everyone who hurts us. The very exhortation, ‘to live and die for the Lord’ is a reminder to imbibe Jesus’ infinite mercy.

William Shakespeare, greatest dramatist of all time, regards mercy as a sublime quality of God. “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” Both the giver and the receiver of mercy are thus enriched. A sinner may be severely punished by the laws of the state but a simple gesture of forgiveness shown by the victim can mend the relationship between the offender and the victim.

Love, kindness, compassion and magnanimity are aspects of forgiveness. The vengeful nature of a few persons has resulted in gory warfare and great catastrophes. But do they occupy important and immortal positions in the annals of history? Where do they stand in comparison to paradigms of forgiveness like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Junior… who have become sources of light and inspiration to the whole of humanity? These people achieved, with a few simple acts of forgiveness and kindness, what great emperors could not achieve with their whole might of vengeance and cruelty.

Forgiveness is a powerful, divine remedy for the evils of the world. It has been proved that hatred and grudges towards others are the main reasons for many human ailments. Grudges and vengeance never let internal wounds heal. But when we forgive others, we not only mend the broken relationships but also facilitate the free flow of Jesus’ love to everyone, including ourselves. And this brings about integral healing.

Forgiveness is a hard thing. “Forgive and forget’, we are told. If only we could forget, forgiveness would come easy. But the scars of old hurts fester on, refusing to heal. And our resentment grows each time we remember the rejection, the insult, the injury. Our resentment wells up again, as if it was only yesterday. Bygones refuse to be bygones. The closer the friendship, the deeper the hurt. The only forgiveness we can muster is usually reserved for strangers. Our lives are strewn with broken friendships. And all because we couldn’t find it in ourselves to forgive. “Shake hands and make-up” we were told, when we fought as little boys in the school playground. That lesson seems to have disappeared with our schooldays.

Hatred and resentment are moral cancers that eat away at our enthusiasm to do good. An appeal to strict justice is not enough to solve the dilemma, since taking out another’s eye does not really cure the loss of one’s own eye, and revenge cannot really settle the account of a grievance. But forgiveness is a hard virtue to gain and to maintain. We can feel the problem in the question Peter asks of Jesus today: “How many times must I forgive?” And although his proposal of “seven times” is used as a round symbolic willingness to forgive “as much as it is humanly possible to forgive,” Jesus suggest we must go further still, since God forgives “seventy-seven times” (or seventy times seven times.) Forgiveness is not a question of just how often or how many times, rather it reflects God’s unending willingness to pardon. There are no limits to his forgiveness.

It is so easy to forget God’s goodness, as our first reading illustrates today. (Eccl 27:30-28:7) Even the stark reality of our own death does not keep each of us alert to God’s gracious promise of salvation as the guiding principal of our actions. It is not easy to see the goodness of God in the hurt we inflict on each other in our selfish interactions. Paul tells us today that we do influence each other. We affect each other. But is it for the good (Rom 14:7-9.)

Our parable today shows that we are incapable of forgiving without first appreciating the forgiveness we have received from God. Notice the three scenes:

(1) We are insolvent, indebted, overdrawn in our account with God’s goodness. God has given us freely life, freedom, integrity and hope. We are incapable of achieving anything by our own resources- we have none! “Without me you can do nothing.”
(2) We are puffed-up with our own importance: “Pay me what you owe me!” We can be intolerant, demanding, inexcusable and arrogant. We can be unkind and unforgiving. We can injure our neighbor, and he can hurt us. We can elbow our way roughly through life. We can so easily hold a grudge, and refuse to forgive.

(3) The ultimate reality “God’s goodness” is never simple-minded. God is not blind. The unforgiving cannot be forgiven. Forgiveness only comes from realizing that we have been forgiven. In pardoning we are pardoned. Our tenuous hold on others must quickly be consumed not by following our hatred to the hilt, but by pardoning in gentle forgiveness. Only so can we realize the equation: Insolvency cannot make demands!

And so let us forgive from our hearts, for if we leave the court with our own suit dismissed, and fail to forgive, then we find ourselves immediately rearranged and in the dock as the guilty accused!

In this world which considers revenge, cruelty and callousness as necessary ingredients for success in life. Christians should be living examples of forgiveness, tenderness and kindness. We should also be able to say like St Paul, “If we live….we are the Lord’s.” The decision to live and die for the Lord will enable us to assimilate Jesus’ forgiveness, kindness and compassion.

God bless.