September 13, 2020
At St. Peter the Apostle and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Sirach 27, 30-28, 7 + Psalm 95103 + Roman 14, 7-9 + Matthew 18, 21-35
It is ironic that Peter should ask this question about forgiveness introducing the parable of the merciless steward since Peter himself will be forgiven by Jesus for his Good Friday denial. We are in the fourth “discourse” or theme of the five in Matthew’s Gospel. In the first we heard the Beatitudes as a discourse on the virtues of those who would follow Jesus. In the second discourse, the apostles are introduced and the theme is the “mission” of disciples. The third is the “Parable Discourse” that describes the Kingdom of Heaven. This month, we have begun the fourth discourse which concerns the church, its life, its action and purpose. It unfolds for us the Divine will for reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus speaks to us again today about how we must live together. Forgiveness and Mercy are basic attitudes that every Christian in the Church must have. The Church, when all is said and done is a community of forgiveness and mercy. It is not just the place where you receive forgiveness and mercy. It is the place where you give it.
There is something in all of us that likes counting. It starts early in life when we notice that some other child got two cookies and we got one. It boils down to being all about winning. We have to win. If we don’t there is something wrong with us. So, Peter comes with this counting question, about how many times. The answer he gets is totally confusing and beyond computation. In other words, Jesus tells him to stop counting. If you think you have to win, then win by being the most forgiving and the most merciful or by just not counting at all.
Interesting details of the parable make it quite shocking because of the exaggerations. The first servant’s debt to the master is enormous. The second servant’s debt to the first servant is a tiny fraction of what that first servant has been forgiven. It would be like owing a penny to the first servant who owed the master 14 billion! Yet, the mercy extended to that first servant is not passed on. Perhaps more important is the fact that buried in this parable’s comparisons is another matter Jesus would have us recognize, and that is the role of the other servants who see what’s going on. They go to the master and report the matter.
Some might criticize this behavior and think that they should have minded their own business. If what they did was not appropriate, Matthew would not have included it in the Gospel. Without those fellow servants, there would have been no justice. Today we would call what they did “advocacy”, and it’s a good thing. It is an appropriate response of the church, you and me, to injustice everywhere and anytime. There is a real sense that this is a ministry of the church: calling attention to injustice and wrong doing.
King Lear in Shakespeare’s great tragedy says to his daughter Cordelia: “Pray you now, forget and forgive for I am old and foolish.” Something about that idea of linking forgetting and forgiving becomes an obstacle to real forgiveness. It isn’t really possible to forget. The challenge is to remember and forgive. By remembering, we can learn and not repeat. By forgiving we are healed. The Dalai Lama tells about a meeting with a Tibetan monk who had served eighteen years in a Chinese prison. When he asked the monk what he felt to be the greatest threat or danger during his imprisonment, the monk replied, “Losing my compassion for the Chinese.” We don’t have to forget in order to forgive. In forgiving, the memory changes us from being a victim to being survivor, and it changes the enemy into a friend.