As we have re-entered our beautiful St. Rita Church, the first gospel message we hear from Jesus is a call to reconciliation with God and with each other. This is the path to holy Communion!
This Sunday’s gospel passage from Matthew on FORGIVENESS is, to say the least, challenging. How many times should we forgive our brother or sister (or federal, state and local government, or the Church, or my boss, or my wife or husband, or my best friend)? Would Jesus include the terrorists behind the now infamous 9/11? And then is it seventy-seven times or seventy-seven times seven times that we are to forgive? (Translations vary.)
Conceivably, given today’s average lifetime, you might accomplish all of those personal absolutions, depending on your level of anger and frustration. But of course the scripture scholars (and our Church) teach us that Jesus was speaking in the numerological symbolism of his time. Seven, as an odd number, was considered a perfect number—a complete number; therefore to say “seventy times seven” was the equivalent of saying “forever” or “without ceasing.” That’s a pretty big order and a huge expectation in the “forgiveness” domain, yet this is what Jesus was teaching his followers and us.
In the context of the parable that Jesus uses today of “the king who decides it is time to exact payment from his indebted servants,” the startling thing is Jesus’ conclusion: just as the king turned over his unforgiving servant to the torturers until he paid off his whole debt,
“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
Wow! If we don’t forgive one another from our hearts, we’re going to be turned over to the torturers?!
On the one hand, we may react to Jesus’ conclusion with paralyzing fear and horror at the likelihood of our holding grudges and remaining unforgiving; on the other hand our reaction might be one of amazement and even celebration that FORGIVENESS is so essential to being a true Christian. After all, beyond our redemption and salvation it is our wellbeing and health that Jesus cares about.
That’s right. Our wellbeing and health. When all is said and done, forgiveness renders a tremendous health benefit to the one who forgives. When we forgive we let go of whatever is literally eating us alive. Marriages that have built in the ability to forgive have a better chance of being around to see the graduations from college and the grandchildren. Cancer and AIDS patients who forgive have a better chance of survival. The studies here are many and are conclusive.
We hear a lot of talk these days of the inevitable anger, hate, and blame that will naturally—humanly—result from any catastrophe or disaster, once the shock wears off. An important question for you and I that emerges from today’s Gospel is “What will you and I do as Christians to promote FORGIVENESS?” [Do not read, “Do not hold accountable,” for we will not grow if we do not learn where things went wrong and how to correct any mistakes.] But to promote forgiveness means nothing less that the promotion of the healing and restoration of victims, the country, and our very selves in the midst. Certainly we do not want to wind up being those who did not forgive and were consequently turned over to the torturers! By the way, who or what might those tortures turn out to be, anyway? Or is it possible that those who do not forgive wind up being their own torturers?
Well, alright. All of you who thought that this homily was too long—I FORGIVE YOU! Now let’s move on.