On the Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his brother if he sins against him, and suggests seven times. Jesus however answers that he should forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven, a whole new dimension of magnitude. This is illustrated by the parable Jesus puts before his disciples, which shows the abundant love of God for us.
The parable tells of a king who calls his servants so he can settle accounts and one of the servants is not able to pay his debt. His debt can be seen as infinite, the worth of millions in our modern currency. As the servant pleads with the king, the king has pity on him and cancels his whole debt instead of selling him into slavery. There is a clear link here between the infinite debt of the servant and the infinite debt of sin. Those who give themselves to the works of wickedness, have sold themselves into slavery to sin, and have to make satisfaction for the offences committed against God, even while God is merciful and ready to relent and forgive. One can notice, however, the apparent folly of the request for patience to allow him to pay back the infinite debt on the part of the servant, as he does not seem to realise how big his debt really is. It is clear that the debt is so great that it is impossible to repay but the servant seems to think he can get away with it. This can often be the case when somebody is living a life distanced from God, which results in a lack of awareness of the mistakes committed. It is not necessarily a decision, but more a shallow self-knowledge in which little offences go unnoticed while all the time thinking one is living a righteous life.However, as it is clear from reading the lives of the Saints, the closer we get to God, the clearer our mistakes become. We become more aware of the distance between God, the person God calls us to be, and who we really are. Like the second servant, even while his debt is much smaller and there is the hope of making satisfaction, even though the debt is ‘manageable’ , the awareness of it is many times bigger due to the saint’s closeness to God.The first servant was not merciful at all and did not realise that the debt he wanted to be paid back was miniscule compared to the mountain of wickedness in his own life. Being forgiven his own debt, he did not change his ways, even though the king forgave him his evil ways and invited him to change his life and start from scratch. The result is that the king, at the time of the final reckoning, had no choice but to punish him because of his hardened heart.
As the king in the story, God is full of mercy; always ready to forgive the un-repayable debt we owe him because of our sins. God is prepared to do this out of His love for us. But it is up to us to change our way of living, to respond to the invitation of God to become closer to Him and become more and more the person each of us is called to be. The closer we come to God, the more we become transformed into the likeness of His Son. The fruit of this is automatically a love for our neighbour. St. John tells us that “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jn 4:20 RSV)