We are in the 24th week of ordinary time. The theme for this Sunday is forgiveness and becoming reconciled with God and one another. All three readings today remind us of the path to forgiveness and mercy and challenge us to forgive one another and to experience peace and reconciliation.
Sirach, in the first reading, reminds us that if we don’t heal and forgive or show mercy, we cannot expect or experience forgiveness from God. The author says it is unwise to harbor grudges. We need to release them and let them go. “The vengeful will suffer Yahweh’s vengeance, for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” Thus, if we don’t lay aside our anger, and forgive and show mercy to an offender, we cannot expect much healing or forgiveness for ourselves.
In the second reading, Paul explains why we must forgive one another. We forgive others because we belong to Christ, Who taught us to forgive. Jesus forgave His executioners. He is a model of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” (Lk. 23:34). Paul further reminds us that we live and die for Jesus Christ, Who, from His cross, pardoned His crucifiers. We, like Jesus’ executioners, were also pardoned, because it is our sins He bore and our burden He carried. In forgiving those who caused His death, Jesus taught us to forgive one another. We forgive others because we belong to Him, and because we also experience His unconditional forgiveness.
In today’s Gospel, through the parable of the two debtors, Jesus teaches us that there should be no limit to our forgiveness and no conditions attached to our reconciliation. We represent the debtor who owed the greater debt in the parable, because we commit sins every day and, hence, we need God’s forgiveness every day. But, we must forgive in order to be forgiven. Jesus concludes the Lord’s prayer with this assurance: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you. “
Peter came to Jesus with an interesting question about forgiveness, asking Jesus “how often he ought to forgive his brother?” Peter answered his own question by suggesting “as many as seven times.” It was the Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. But for the Jewish people, seven was a holy number symbolizing perfection, fullness, abundance, rest, and completion. So, Peter must have thought he was doing much more than the existing practice required. However, Jesus had a totally a different answer for Peter. Jesus explained that His true followers must forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, there is no quantifiable limit to forgiveness; we must forgive unconditionally. Someone said that life on earth is short and eternity is forever. In light of eternity and considering the short span of life, harboring old grudges is pointless. The forgiveness that we offer to others is the indispensable condition which makes it possible for us to receive God’s forgiveness and to pray meaningfully: “Forgive us our trespasses.”
As life goes on, and we remember incidents which caused us great pain and anger, we need to remind ourselves that, with God’s grace, we have already forgiven the one who hurt us. Time does heal memories. Forgiveness changes us from being prisoners of our past to being liberated and at peace with our memories. It also allows us to move beyond pain, resentment, and anger. It is not easy to forget hurt feelings, but when we forgive, we make a choice that brings healing. We can also forgive the one who offends us by wishing him God’s blessings and praying for him. When we withhold forgiveness, we remain the victim, but when we offer forgiveness, we experience the peace and joy of being forgiven.
As part of our summer series talk, Deacon Ralph and Peggy Skiano will speak on the topic, “Sacrament of Marriage and Family Life.” The Skianos were head of the ministry “Marriage and Family Life” in the diocese. Though retired, they continue to give talks and organize seminars on this important topic. I invite you all to join us in the hall immediately after the 8:00 am Mass for this significant and meaningful presentation.
On another note I am pleased to inform you that our new Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan will be visiting our parish and celebrating the 4:30 pm Mass on September 23rd.