Monday, 5 September 2011

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Ecclesiasticus 27:30 - 28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

In the Church today there are two groups of people:
  • Those who believe we should forgive because otherwise God won't forgive us.
  • Those who believe we should forgive because God has already forgiven us.
I'll say that again.

In the Church today there are two groups of people:
  • Those who believe we should forgive because otherwise God won't forgive us.
  • Those who believe we should forgive because God has already forgiven us.
Each one of us here would do well to ask ourselves which group we belong to.

It is my belief that the first group is by far the larger and that there are very few people in the second. And it is also my belief that the challenge facing most of us today is that of moving from the first group into the second - of coming to see that we must forgive because we have already been forgiven.

What are the consequences of belonging to the first group?

Well, in the first place it is much, much harder for them to forgive.

Why is this?

It is because for them, forgiveness is an act of will and not an act of love. They say to themselves: I must forgive or I won't be forgiven. These people have to force themselves to go through the motions of forgiveness. For them, forgiveness is a duty.

Let me clarify this with a story. An elderly friend had a sister-in-law with whom he didn't get on well at all. She had hurt him badly and let me tell you it was for him a major problem in his life. As a Christian he knew he had to forgive. You see, at that stage he was in the first group; forgiveness was a duty.

Much against his natural desires he would include this woman in all the family gatherings and do his best to make her feel welcome in every possible way. Invariably, however, there would be friction and sometimes angry words. Another failure and he would feel even more guilty!

To cut a long story short it was after my friend had an experience of deep personal conversion of his own, culminating in a wonderful moment of the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that he confided to me that he had finally been able, from the depths of his heart, to forgive his sister-in-law. He was so happy! And again, without going into the personal details, it was obvious to me he had moved out of the first group into the second.

The second group finds it far easier to forgive because they are given power to forgive, and they get this power from the experience of themselves being forgiven.

Why should the servant of our parable today have forgiven? Because he himself had been forgiven. The trouble, apparently, was that somehow he had missed the experience of his own forgiveness. He wasn't paying attention! And because he missed the experience of the huge debt he himself was forgiven he was not able to forgive others. How sad!

If we, in the first group, find it difficult to forgive others, if we have in our lives someone we can't forgive - a husband, a wife, a son or daughter, an in-law or a friend, or maybe a real enemy - then, without doubt, we should return to the experience of being ourselves forgiven our sins. It's in that knowledge, in that experience, that we will get power to forgive. We must go to God in prayer and stand before him in all our sinfulness, all our unloveability (through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault) and hear God say to us (personally), 'You deserve eternal punishment - but I forgive you.'

The world today needs reconciliation so badly. Psychologists say that so many of us just can't be healed from our anxieties, our fears, our guilts and depressions, because we simply refuse to forgive. And we refuse to forgive, like the servant in the Gospel, because we don't yet realise how much we have been forgiven.

It has been said that when we refuse to forgive we burn the bridge that we ourselves have to cross to get to heaven.

So let's keep our sins before our eyes, not in a morbid way, but so that we can rejoice in the depth of God's mercy and love for us. Then, when our neighbour sins against us we can pass on to him the forgiveness in which we ourselves already rejoice.

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