24th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Lest we want to be handed “over to the torturers until [we] should pay back [our] whole debt,” we must acquire the good habit of forgiving others. But before we can acquire the virtue of forgiving others, we need to understand what it is to forgive. From Jesus we learn that forgiving another his sin against me is something like “settling accounts” with someone who owes me a debt. There are two ways for this debt to be settled: first, I am repaid, “made whole” and no longer lacking what I loaned; second, I forgive the debt; I waive the obligation for repayment and count the loan a gift. The Master in Jesus' parable decides to settle his accounts, to bring his books into balance. He calls in all the loans he's made. One servant can't repay him, so the Master orders him and his whole family sold to repay what he owes. The servant pleas for mercy, and the Master – moved by compassion – forgives the servant's debt. So what happened here? The money he owes doesn't magically reappear on the Master's books. The Master is still out the amount of the loan. Financially, the Master has not been “made whole.” But spiritually, he has quite possibly gained a kingdom. To forgive is to treat another's sin against you as a gift to the sinner.
Of course, this sounds like an absurd practice! You're telling me that when someone sins against me I'm supposed to take that debt and return it to the sinner as a gift from me?! Yup. That's what Jesus is saying. But be patient. This absurd practice looks less absurd when you consider the alternatives. What else could I do here? I could incur my own debt by sinning against the sinner. Eye for an eye. Tit for tat. You sin against me, so I sin against you. Now we have two sinners instead of one. How is that a good thing. . .especially for me? I've allowed you to lead me into sin. I could hold your sin against me in the depths of my heart and nurture a grudge in silence, allowing your sin to fester and rot, poisoning my whole being. While you go about your merry way, I live with the carcass of your sin fouling me, body and soul. Well, that's obviously not an attractive option. Or, I could take your sin against me and turn it into a gift, handing it back to you in mercy, thus freeing us both from the prison of spiritual death. In other words, I could for-give you. I could fore-go, surrender my need, my desire for repayment or punishment. “I say to you, [forgive] not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Do you find this to be a difficult command to follow? Why is it so hard for you to turn a debt owed to you into a gift for your debtor? Maybe you believe that forgiving the sinner is the same as approving of a sin. If I forgive him for cheating on me, I'm saying it's OK to cheat on me. Wrong. Only debts and sins can be forgiven. By forgiving him, you are clearly saying that his cheating is a sin. Maybe you believe that forgiving the sinner increases the chances of her sinning again. Forgiveness makes sin easy to repeat. Wrong again. Each act of forgiveness is a sacred gift, a gift that builds virtue and destroys vice in the forgiver and the forgiven. Maybe you just like to nurture the hurt of being sinned against. You believe that nurturing the offense rather than forgiving it gives you some sort of power over the one who sinned against you. Wrong. Again. All this does is guarantee that when it comes time to measure you your heart will be too small to measure, too shrunken and shriveled to register. That's no way to ask the Father to admit you into the Wedding Feast of Heaven.
But we can't pretend that this command is easy to follow. Jesus knows this too. That's why he adds some incentive to mix: “. . .unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart, [you will be] handed. . .over to the torturers until [you] should pay back the whole debt.” If that's not enough incentive for you, consider this: we will pray the Our Father during this Mass. There we pray together “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Think about what you are asking the Father to do here. You are praying, “Father, please forgive my sins against you in the same way that I forgive the sins of others.” How do you forgive others? Do you forgive others? It's vital that you know the answers b/c you're asking the Father to treat you in the exact same way! The measure you use to measure others will be used to measure you. May I suggest that you choose to measure others with compassion, gifting them with abundant mercy and love, foregoing whatever repayment or punishment you might desire, and reestablishing them as your brother and sister in Christ? You never know when the Father may show up to measure you!
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