Sirach 27: 30-28:7 + Psalm 103 + Romans 14: 7-9 + Matthew 18: 21-35
September 17, 2023 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
Jesus speaks to us today about Mercy, which is much deeper and far more rich and healing than forgiveness. Peter, probably trying to look grand and magnanimous comes up with what, to him, must seem like a large number. Jesus will have none of his silly counting ideas and he proposes to us something greater than forgiveness. Forgiveness is a great gift, but there is something greater. Mercy goes further than forgiveness because it is underserved, and it comes without asking. It is a pure gift, an incredible gift that must be accepted. Through this parable Jesus teaches us that because God is merciful we must, in turn, be merciful to others. We have no right to ask for mercy if we are not prepared and willing to give it, and that is what we see in this parable.
All of us face situations when we struggle to let go of bitterness, anger, or resentment. We sometimes feel that if we forgive someone who has harmed us in any way, they get “off the hook” with no consequences. So, we fool ourselves into thinking we will take the “high road” and let them suffer without our forgiveness. Then too, we begin to think that if we just forgive again and again, people will just walk all over us. So, we offer ourselves more “realistic” advice. “I’ll forgive maybe once, but three times, and you’re out.” All the while we ignore what God has said through the Apostle, Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “Beloved, do not look for revenge. Leave room for my wrath.”
Forgiveness comes from a humble person. The prideful can never forgive because it requires dying to self, our pride, our desire to be right, our thirst of revenge which is really our desire to play God. When we get trapped in this mood of righteousness refusing forgiveness, we need to pray for mercy like never before lest we condemn ourselves when we pray as Jesus taught us.
There is a great tragedy if we exempt ourselves from the law of Jesus, the law of love and forgiveness. If we establish for ourselves a new reality; if vengeance and retribution are what we embrace, then that’s what we are left with, a hardened heart. There is always the risk that a hard heart might become so hardened that even a kind and merciful God could not soften it.
Forgiveness is never a business deal. I’ll forgive you if you do such and such. This is when mercy enters experience. With mercy there is no “if”, no conditions. We give what we hope to receive. Perhaps if we look at it this way, we give mercy creating an empty space in our hearts. It is into that empty space that the Lord himself can refill what has been given away.
Forgiveness, and its motive, mercy is really a decision we make. It is a decision to be different from the offender, a decision to not let what has been done to me dictate how I act to that person or anyone else for that matter. It is mercy that takes the arithmetic out of Peter’s idea of forgiveness. A parable about the Kingdom of God tells us that mercy is for those who are merciful. Those without mercy shall live without the Kingdom of God.