Sunday, September 11, 2011
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Matthew 18:21: Peter’s question
Matthew 18:22: Jesus’ reply
Matthew 18:23-26: 1st part of the parable
Matthew 18:,27-30: 2nd part of the parable
Matthew 18:31-35: 3rd part of the parable
b) A key to the reading:
In the Gospel of the 24th Sunday of ordinary time, Jesus tells us of the need to forgive our brothers and sisters. It is not easy to forgive. There are some offences and insults that go on hurting us. Some say: “I forgive, but not forget.” I cannot forget! Resentment, tensions, different opinions, provocations make it difficult to forgive and be reconciled. Why is it that forgiving is so difficult? Do I create a space in my family, my community, my work and my relationships for reconciliation and forgiveness? How? Let us meditate on the third part of the “Sermon on the Community” (Mt 18:21-35), where Matthew puts together the sayings and parables of Jesus on limitless forgiveness. As you read, think of yourself and try to look back on your life.
c) The text:
21 Then Peter went up to him and said, 'Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?' 22 Jesus answered, 'Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times. 23 'And so the kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. 24 When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; 25 he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. 26 At this, the servant threw himself down at his master's feet, with the words, "Be patient with me and I will pay the whole sum."
27 And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. 28 Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow-servant who owed him one hundred denari; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him, saying, "Pay what you owe me." 29 His fellow-servant fell at his feet and appealed to him, saying, "Be patient with me and I will pay you." 30 But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 His fellow-servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. 32 Then the master sent for the man and said to him, "You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. 33 Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow-servant just as I had pity on you?" 34 And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. 35 And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which part of the parable struck you most? Why?
b) What counsels does Jesus give us to help us reconcile and forgive?
c) Looking in the mirror of the parable, with which character do I identify myself most: the king who wants to audit his servants or with the forgiven servant who does not want to forgive his companion?
d) Looking at the present situation of our family, our community, our church, our society and our world, is there among us a space for forgiveness and reconciliation so that reconciliation spreads among us? Where do we need to begin so that reconciliation may spread among us?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the text
a) The context within which our text is placed in Matthew’s Gospel:
- The comparison that Jesus uses to show the obligation to forgive and be reconciled brings together parable and allegory. When Jesus speaks of the King who wants to settle his accounts with his servants, he is thinking of God who forgives all. When he speaks of the debt of the servant forgiven by the King, he is thinking of our huge debt with God who always forgives us. When he speaks of the attitude of the forgiven servant who will not forgive, he is thinking of us, forgiven by God, but who will not forgive our brothers and sisters.
- At the end of the first century, the Judeo-Christians of the communities of Syria and Palestine had serious and grave problems of reconciliation with the brothers and sisters of the same race. At the time of the great disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the 70’s, both the Synagogue and the Ecclesia were trying to reorganise themselves in the regions of Syria and Palestine. That is why there was a great and growing tension between them that was the source of much suffering within families. This tension is the background to Matthew’s Gospel.
b) A commentary on the text:
Matthew 18:21: Peter’s question: how many times forgive?
On hearing Jesus’ words on reconciliation, Peter asks: “How often must I forgive? Seven times?” Seven is a number indicating perfection and, in the case of Peter’s proposal, seven is synonymous with always.
Matthew 18:22: Jesus’ reply: seventy times seven!
Jesus sees further. He eliminates any possible limitation to forgiveness: “Not seven, but seventy times seven!” Because there is no proportion between the forgiveness we receive from God and our forgiving our brother and sister. So as to make his reply to Peter clear, Jesus tells a parable. It is the parable of limitless forgiveness!
Matthew 18:23-26: The first part of the parable: the situation of the debtor
When he speaks of the King, Jesus is thinking of God. A servant owes the king ten thousand talents. That is, 164 tons of gold. The servant says he will pay. But even if he worked the whole of his life, he, his wife, his children and all his family, he would not be able to acquire 164 tons of gold to pay back the king. In other words, we shall never be in a position to pay back our debt with God. Impossible! (cf Psalm 49:8-9).
Matthew 18:27-30: The second part of the parable: The great contrast
At the servant’s insistence, the king forgives him his debt of 164 tons of gold. A fellow servant owes him a hundred denari, that is, 30 grams of gold. There is no comparison between the two debts! A grain of sand and a mountain! Before God’s love that forgives freely our debt of 164 tons of gold, it is but just that we should forgive a debt of 30 grams of gold. But the forgiven servant would not forgive, not even at the insistence of the debtor. He behaves towards his fellow servant the way the king should have behaved towards him but did not: he ordered that he be thrown in jail until the debt of 30 grams of gold was paid! The contrast speaks for itself and needs no commentary!
Matthew 18:23-35: The third part of the parable: the moral of the story
The shameful attitude of the forgiven servant who will not forgive, strikes even his mates. They report him to the king and the king acts accordingly: he puts into motion the procedure of justice and the forgiven servant who in turn would not forgive, is thrown into jail, where he will stay until his debt is paid! He should be still there today! Because he will never be able to pay 164 tons of gold! The moral of the parable: “This is how my Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart!” The only limit to the free mercy of God who always forgives us is our refusal to forgive the brother and sister! (Mt 18:34; 6:12.15; Lk 23:34).
c) A deepening: Forgiving after 11 September 2001!
On 11 September 2001, a group of terrorists flew two planes into the two towers of New York and killed more than three thousand persons while shouting “Holy War!” The immediate cry in reply was: “Crusade”. Both sides used the name of God to legitimise violence. No one recalled the saying: “Seventy times seven!” And one of the sides calls itself Christian!
On the occasion of the war in Iraq, Pope John Paul II shouted at a public audience: “War is Satanic!”, and invited all to fight for peace. At an ecumenical meeting of representatives of Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem in 2000, the Pope said: “We cannot call on the name of God to legitimise violence!”
The last sentence of the Old Testament through which the people of God entered the New Testament and that expresses the nucleus of its messianic hope for reconciliation, is the oracle of the prophet Malachy: “Lo, I will send Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom” (Mal 3:23). To turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, means to rebuild relationships between persons. There will be no future of peace unless we make a great effort at rebuilding human relationships in the small nucleus, that is, in the family and in the community. The community is where families meet to better preserve and pass on the values that they hold.
Indifference came into the world with the first-born of the first union: Cain who kills Able (Gen 4:8). This indifference has grown with double vengeance. Cain will be avenged sevenfold, but Lamech seventy times sevenfold (Gen 4,24). Peter wants to undo the error and proposes a reconciliation of seven times (Mt 18:21). But his proposal is weak. It does not go to the root of violence. Jesus goes much further and demands seventy times seven (Mt 18:22). To this day, and especially today, reconciliation is the most urgent task for us, followers of Jesus. It is worthwhile remembering the warning of Jesus: “That is how my Father will deal with you unless you each forgive the brother from your heart!” Seventy times seven!
6. Prayer: Psalm 62
God our only hope
In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from him comes my safety;
he alone is my rock, my safety,
my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.
How much longer will you set on a victim,
all together, intent on murder,
like a rampart already leaning over,
a wall already damaged?
Trickery is their only plan,
deception their only pleasure,
with lies on their lips they pronounce a blessing,
with a curse in their hearts.
Rest in God alone, my soul!
He is the source of my hope.
He alone is my rock, my safety, my stronghold,
so that I stand unwavering.
In God is my safety and my glory,
the rock of my strength.
In God is my refuge;
trust in him, you people, at all times.
Pour out your hearts to him,
God is a refuge for us.
Ordinary people are a mere puff of wind,
important people a delusion;
set both on the scales together,
and they are lighter than a puff of wind.
Put no trust in extortion,
no empty hopes in robbery;
however much wealth may multiply,
do not set your heart on it.
Once God has spoken,
twice have I heard this:
Strength belongs to God,
to you, Lord, faithful love;
and you repay everyone as their deeds deserve.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.