Matthew 18:21-35
Have I Fully Accepted God's Mercy?
by Rev. Jack Peterson

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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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."

I recently found myself seized with amazement at the height and depth and width of Godís mercy.  In this moment of prayer, I pondered Jesus hanging from the cross, enduring unimaginable suffering out of love for us and in order to make real the Fatherís mercy.  In my prayer, I also called to mind how many times I have been to confession over the years . . . how patient and generous God has been with the gift of His forgiveness to me.  I also reflected on the tremendous number of young people that I saw go to confession at World Youth Day in Spain.  As Christians, we believe in a God who deeply desires to offer His free and generous mercy to His children who come with contrite hearts before Him.  Our praise of God for this gift should never cease.

Have I fully accepted Godís mercy in my life?  One test for the answer to this question is our willingness to forgive our neighbor.  Jesus tells a powerful parable in the 18th chapter of Matthewís Gospel about the unforgiving servant which teaches very clearly that it wrong to embrace Godís mercy for our ďdebtsĒ and in turn withhold that mercy from our neighbor.  It reflects a real failure to grasp the magnitude of Godís generosity.  When God has forgiven a debt that we can never possibly repay, how do we hang on to the smaller debt that another owes us?

The flip side of the coin is that when we do forgive our neighbor, especially for a grievous fault, we render to God true gratitude for His mercy.  In fact, it is one of the most beautiful ways that we live out the reality that we were made in Godís image and likeness.  We imitate God and His goodness when we forgive like He forgives.  It is then that Godís grace flows freely through us in the most powerful of ways.

An additional grace that flows from the exercise of mercy is that we are set free from the burden of anger and resentment that builds up when we fail to forgive.  It is so easy for the sins of our neighbor to become like shackles that weigh us down when we are unable to let go of the hurt and anger that come from being wronged.  We can carry those shackles around for years, and they can steal our joy, our ability to move on and our capacity to live in the fullness of life.  Accepting Godís grace to forgive our neighbor sets us free.

As our country prayerfully celebrates the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our home soil, Jesusí message is acutely relevant.  While we have a duty to work hard to protect our land from further attacks (work that will take on a variety of dimensions including prayer, education and security measures), Jesus reminds us today that forgiveness is critical to moving forward.

A second test for the answer to the question, if I have fully accepted Godís mercy, is the ability to forgive ourselves.  Accepting Godís mercy can be hard enough in some circumstances of our loves, however, learning to forgive ourselves can be just as hard with some sins.  Most of us know the difficulty of this particular battle.  When we look back over 2,000 years of Christian history, we can take comfort in knowing that some of the greatest sinners have become the greatest saints.  From the Gospels, St. Peter and St. Matthew come quickly to mind.  From the history books, St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola jump out.  Part of true contrition is letting God place our past in the past and granting us brand new life in the present.  His merciful love transforms us into children of light and allows us to start all over again.

Our praise of God for His mercy should never cease.

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