Who is the person whom you have not and cannot forgive? Who is the person whom you have forgiven, but whose offense against you will never forget?
Jesus concludes the parable we have just heard by saying, “And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother and sister from your hearts.”
Yes, Jesus calls for total forgiveness from our hearts. Unless you give that to other people, unless you act differently from the servant in the parable, God will not forgive you. It’s that simple.
And it’s not some bit of divine nastiness that causes God not to forgive you. If your heart is so full of hate, then you will block the love of God’s forgiveness from reaching you.
Remember how St. Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother? Remember Jesus’ answer, “I do not say seven times, but seventy times seven.” And that doesn’t mean you keep score and when you get to 490 times you quit. Those numbers are symbolic numbers for infinity — you never stop forgiving people who have hurt you, whether they ask for your forgiveness or not.
In the “Our Father” we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We specifically ask God to forgive us in the same measure we have forgiven others.
We go to the holy mystery of penance and confess our sins, fully expecting the priest to give us absolution — and rightly so!
But what if God forgave us as we forgive those who trespass against us? Many of us would be in trouble, wouldn’t we?
Look again at today’s Gospel parable. The servant owed his master ten thousand talents. In today’s U.S. currency that would be about a half- million dollars.
This was money lent by the king and there is no hope that the servant, even though he promised to pay it back, ever could. The fellow servant owed 100 denarii. That would come to around 600 dollars.
Now you can see what a vast difference there was in the amount owed by each man. Now you can see the enormous generosity of the king to his servant in simply writing off the whole debt! Now you can see the malice of the servant in consigning his fellow servant to debtor’s prison. The poor man would never get out. His wife and children might even be imprisoned with him. There they would all die because of the cruelty of another man.
No wonder the king was angry when he heard about what had happened. No wonder he punished the servant the way he did.
All of us are debtors to the divine justice. We have all sinned so often. We have all sinned so deliberately.
Yet we all go time and again to ask God’s forgiveness in the mystery of penance; and we go home forgiven once more, no matter how great the sin was, if only we say we are sorry and we will try not to sin again and will avoid near occasions of sin.
Can’t you see the vast difference between the offenses and injuries done to us by others and the offense we do to God when we sin?
Obviously, the malice of an act against another human being is as nothing when contrasted with the evil of a sin against God!
Jesus calls for a lot in today’s Gospel. He knows how it feels to be hurt by another person.
Didn’t Judas betray him? Didn’t the crowds turn on him in front of Pilate?
Didn’t Peter deny him three times?
Didn’t the leaders of his own people reject him and send him to crucifixion?
Didn’t they stand at the foot of the cross and taunt him? And didn’t he say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus knew the law of talion: an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. He knew that the people of his time considered revenge as normal and expected.
Semites still think that way. That’s why the constant retaliation between Jews and Palestinians, Between Shiites and Sunis. That is why there were laws to limit the extent one could take revenge.
Even so, Jesus gave a new law — one in which there would be no more revenge; no more “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.”
This new law would be one of mercy and love. A law reflecting the mercy and love of God himself.
Yes, the Lord knows that people hurt other people deliberately. He knows that everyone tends to look out for himself no matter whom else he hurts in the process.
Yet he still calls us to forgive in the way he did — from our hearts! God needs loving, forgiving hearts or his love cannot enter a person. It is a moral impossibility.
Furthermore, by our own lack of love for others, our own refusal to forgive, we keep the hatred and evil in the world around us alive and active.
That can only be eliminated from the world by love and forgiveness of our enemies.
Isn’t there enough evil, death and suffering already inflicted on people? We cannot complain about Israel or Iraq, Venezuala or the various areas of Africa without also realizing that we do exactly the same thing if we refuse to forgive other people; if we harbor grudges and nurse injuries in our hearts; if we say we can never forgive.
Where do we find the desire and the courage to forgive others so completely? From God’s grace. From a deep awareness and appreciation of the forgiveness God gives each of us every day. We can do more than the world expects. We can do the God-like thing.
Because we are Christians we can do more than the average respectable member of society.
Because of God’s grace and love for us we can rise above personal wrongs and overcome evil by the good that we do.