In today’s Gospel, Peter asks an important question, “How often should I forgive?” In asking how often forgiveness is to be granted, Peter is implying that there should be a limit to forgiveness. In fact, he suggests a very generous limit, “As many as seven times?” Peter felt so good and proud about this excellent suggestion that he is requesting that Jesus confirm his proposal. Jesus responds, “Not 7 times, but 77 times.” Jesus answers that there is no limit.
Jesus uses the parable of the King and the 2 slaves to illustrate this point.The 1st slave owes the King 10,000 talents. This is a huge amount for a debt. Since the slave could not pay the debt, the king inflicts the usual punishment of that time: he orders the slave, his entire family and all his belongings to be sold. The slave pleads with the king by saying, “I will pay you everything”. This is an impossible promise, given the size of the debt. The debt is so great that it is unpayable.
Regardless, the King shows pity, compassion and goodness. The debt is cancelled and forgiven; no strings attached. Because of the King’s mercy, the slave goes from having a staggering debt to no longer owing any money.
This 1st slave now meets a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii (1 day’s pay). Compared to 10,000 talents, this is a much smaller amount. This is a minor debt. The expected response is that the man who had been forgiven so much would have gladly shown forgiveness to another who owed him so much less.
However, the 1st slave who received extravagant forgiveness from the King shows no compassion, no mercy. He refuses to forgive the relatively minor offense done against him. When the King becomes aware of the 1st slave’s behaviour, he takes back the forgiveness that he has already given. The King is so angry that he demands that the slave be tortured and the entire debt be repaid. The implication is that, since the debt is unpayable, the torture will be endless.
We are all like the 1st slave. God has forgiven us all our sins (It doesn’t matter what we have done; how many times). Jesus died for us so that our relationship with God, damaged by sin, could be restored. There is no limit to his divine forgiveness. (God gives us a 10th, 50th, 100th chance when we don’t even deserve a 2nd chance)
In the face of God, we are all debtors. That debt is so great! We can never pay Jesus back for what he has done by nailing our sins to the Cross. Whatever anyone does to us is infinitely less than what God has graciously given to us. The divine forgiveness given to us is infinitely greater than any forgiveness we might be called upon to offer. However, the Father’s great forgiveness, already given, will be withdrawn at the final judgment if we do not forgive those around us from the “heart”.
The accepted morality of our culture is based on blame, guilt and punishment. There are even times when our society encourages revenge and retaliation when we have been wronged. On the other hand, Jesus advocates reacting to injury by being generous with the offender and on forgiving offenders time after time and without calculation.
The key message is that forgiveness is not a suggestion, a recommendation or an “if you have the time” option. Jesus states that forgiveness is a necessity, an obligation, in order to be a Christian.
This message can be found in the prayer that he himself taught us. The words of the “Our Father” are not “Forgive us our trespasses.” They are: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. The most important word in that sentence is “as”. The assumption is that we have already started the process of forgiving others before we go to God and ask for his forgiveness.
In other words, if we have not already forgiven others who have wronged us, or we are not currently in the process of forgiving another’s faults, we have no right to ask God to forgive us our wrongs and faults. The Lord’s Prayer makes it clear that forgiveness is to be the foundation, the anchor of all our human relationships.
We can’t always live up to this ideal. It may be very hard to turn the other cheek. Some offences are so traumatic that they seem unforgivable. Still, we must believe in Jesus and we must try to live as he asks us. The call of the Gospel is to forgive as Jesus forgives. Whenever we encounter offences, quarrels, injustices, neglect (especially in family life), we are called to imitate Jesus’ forgiveness of us. Our salvation depends on it.
Gospel forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a decision. The most important organ involved in forgiveness is the brain. Since it’s a decision, forgiveness is something we can learn. We can practice it. The more we do it, the better we get at it.
Sometimes, we confuse the pain caused by the offence and the decision to forgive. The wounds do not disappear. If we decide to forgive, the hurts are still there. The offense is not forgotten. However, forgiveness can transform the event. The best way to explain this is to share with you the story of Dale Lang.
On April 28, 1999, 9 days after the Columbine High School shootings, a copy cat high school shooting took place in a high school in Taber, Alberta. A 14-year-old boy shot 2 17-year-old boys. 1 of the boys lived; 1 of them died. The 1 boy who died was Jason Lang, Dale’s son.
2 days later, Dale, an Anglican minister, returned to the school to lead a memorial service. During the service, he prayed for his son’s killer by saying, “Be with him lord. He needs you now.” A few days later, Dale conducted the funeral service for his son. During the eulogy at the service, I couldn’t believe what happened: he publicly forgave his son’s killer. At a moment of unspeakable darkness, pain and sorrow, he chose to walk the talk of the “Our Father”.
21 years later, although Dale Lang is no longer in active ministry, he is still passionate about his faith and the priority of learning to forgive.Dale Lang provides us with an inspirational example to follow especially when we want to hold on to our petty grievances and harbor lingering resentments.
The invitation of the Gospel is to ask the Holy Spirit to take possession of our hearts so that we may be able to turn our hurts, wounds and tragedies into compassion, mercy and healing.This is the limitless and constant forgiveness that is demanded of the disciple.
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God for the courage, strength, perseverance and grace to make this type of forgiveness a hallmark of our lives.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
September 12-13, 2020