24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept 17, 2023 (Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35)
"How often should I forgive?" Jesus' answer comes in the form of an idiom:
"Seventy times seven times."
Intro: This past Monday, Sept. 11, was the 22nd anniversary of an event that Americans consider as one of the epic historic events, equivalent to the founding of the United States, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. On 9/11, 2001, America met the challenge both to their freedom as a free people and to their willingness to accept and use the grace of forgiveness God wanted to give them so they could obey the command of Lord Jesus Christ to offer forgiveness to all, even to their enemies; but forgiveness is not an easy gift to give! Despite this fact, our readings this weekend concern forgiving and being reconciled with those who wound us - a challenge to us to walk this path with Jesus, the only Way to Life.
Life Message: Peter’s question resonates within us: "How often should I forgive?" Jesus' answer comes in the form of an idiom, "seventy times seven times," which means that, at all times and in all places, we are to embody God's forgiving grace. Forgiveness involves more than absolution of guilt. It involves reconciliation – the mending of our past, now-fractured, relationships and the healing of our mutual brokenness. In short, it involves intentional work to heal and be reconciled with another. Matt 7:2 “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” says Jesus. Based on this, Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive, Divine.” Believe it – because God alone is the Divine! When we withhold forgiveness, we remain the victim. When we offer forgiveness, we are doing it also for our own well-being. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, the resentment, and the anger. We always have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive. When we forgive, we make the choice that heals.
Conclusion: Forgiveness does not mean condoning evil, neither in God nor in the Christian community. Do forgiveness and reconciliation mean the indefinite tolerance of evil and unjust behavior? The king was perfectly ready to forgive the senior official, but how could reconciliation take place when the official later behaved in such an abominable way to a brother? We can be ready to forgive the sinner indefinitely, but we must fight against sin without counting the cost. God and the Church can forgive the repentant sinner, but they cannot condone unrepented behavior that is a source of real evil and suffering.
God cannot be reconciled with the sinner who chooses to stay in sin, nor can the Christian community fully incorporate a member who refuses reconciliation and the healing of the behaviors that offend against truth and love. With God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, forgiveness is easily available to the individual Christian (The Prodigal Son, and Mary Magdalene), but along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we must seek a mutual healing of wounds and a real change of mind, heart, and evil behavior.