24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005

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First Reading - Sirach 27:30-28:7
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Second Reading - Romans 14:7-9
Gospel - Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Then Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  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 him 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 his brother from his heart."

This is a very difficult day for our nation.  While we remember those who died on September 11, 2001, we also mourn the suffering of those in the South who continue to suffer the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.  And as is so often the case, the Church, in her wisdom, offers us beautiful readings to help us heal and make sense of all that we have witnessed and endured.  The readings today, without question, remind us of the need for forgiveness, something which must be a part of our nation's healing from the wounds of 9-11, if we are to learn from and emerge from the pain we all feel.

At the outset of our Gospel today, Peter tries to impress Jesus by offering to forgive his brother seven times.  Recall that traditional Judaism operates under the law of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."  So, for Peter to even suggest that he might forgive his brother seven times, was a stretch for any good Jew.  And yet our Lord raises the bar - he tells Peter to forgive always, without counting the number of times.  In recent history, the drama of the "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" philosophy has taken a new twist in the Holy Land.  Notice that the Jews have decided to return certain portions of land, to which they lay sacred claim, back to the Palestinians.  It seems that the Gospel message may be permeating their hearts, without them knowing.  The Jews and the Palestinians have realized that it is only through forgiveness and concession that any of them will have a future worth living for.  This is one of the things that makes Christianity so remarkably different than Islam or Judaism - we stress the need to forgive, while the other religions cannot move to this type of reconciliation.

In considering this theme of forgiveness, we ought to consider several points:

1.  The reason why we need to learn to forgive others is because we are debtors to God.  When we pray the Our Father, we ask God to forgive our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.  When we consider our lack of forgiveness at times, do we really want God forgiving us as we sometimes fail to do?

2.  Should we forgive and forget?  There are many pop songs that tell us to.  And yet, God doesn't!  The master of the servants in the parable forgave the wicked servant but the master did not forget the wicked servant's previous debt upon learning of the wicked servant's lack of forgiveness of a fellow servant who owed much less.  Purgatory is evidence that God forgives us by not sending us to hell and yet God does not forget that we owe him restitution for the sins of our past - the price we pay in purgatory.

3.  Certain types of forgiveness are easy - overlooking another's faults or looking beyond a momentary hurtful word.  And yet other types of forgiveness are more difficult - forgiving those who have so deeply hurt us and yet don't see their sin and don't even see that they need to apologize.  Or, forgiving those terrorists who killed so many on 9-11 or the terrorists who kill our soldiers overseas.  And while we seek equity and justice and solutions that will lead to peace, even if that sometimes means armed conflict to secure our security, we also must be different than the Jewish "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" mentality because Jesus commands us to .  These are the difficult questions with which we must grapple and struggle, by God's grace to find solutions to.

In the end, we know that heroic forgiveness is possible.  Christ's forgiveness of his executors shows us as much.  Let us pray for our healing to include the forgiveness that we desire when we pray the Our Father so that God may indeed forgive us.

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