Weekly Gospel Reflection - 11 September 2011
Matthew 18:21-35 (CEB): Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.
“When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’
“Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.
“When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.
“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the US. In an instant, all of us were changed. I still remember watching the second plane hit the tower. We watched in shock and horror as the towers came tumbling down. Thousands of people died. And how did we respond? At first, while most of us were still numb from the events, hundreds of people went to the attack sites and helped to rescue our brothers and sisters who may still be alive amidst all the rubble and chaos. Then millions of people from around the world sent money and supplies to help those in need. Many came themselves to volunteer in the rescue and clean-up.
It started. ‘War...’ ‘Kill them, kill them all...’ ‘Nuke the whole place and let God sort ‘em out...’ ‘We’ll put a boot up your ass, it’s the American way...’
The murmuring started oh so slightly but quickly grew into a mighty crescendo that was/is almost deafening. The thoughts and questions came pouring in - how do we respond to those who perpetrated such a thing? The world stood by with baited breath to see how the last remaining super power (that no longer looked so super) would react. So, as a nation, we responded by launching a decade long ‘War on Terror’. We stated that those who did this to us where an ‘Axis of Evil’ that needed to be wiped off the planet. We painted them as non-humans, animals, monsters, that needed to obliterated from existence. In that one act, in the declaration alone, we became the monsters and we have proved it every single day since.
In today’s gospel reading, Peter’s question is so telling. He asks how to respond to his ‘brother or sister’ who sins against him. I tell you that our (so-called) ‘enemies’ are our brothers or sisters. All humanity is related. The Muslim extremist. The Christian extremist. The gay, straight, black, brown, red, yellow, white, female, male, the religious, the non-religious, republicans, democrats, conservatives, liberals, the just and the unjust, and everyone in between. All humanity is precious in God’s sight. All humanity is our brothers and sisters. Peter’s question pierces us to our very core. How are we to respond to those who have sinned against us? With forgiveness. Period. There are no other options for those who follow Christ.
‘But what if...?’ I hear the what if questions all the time. And the answer is the same - forgiveness. That is always and forever the answer. And not just once or twice or even seven times. We are to forgive the way God forgives. And the story Jesus tells in response to Peter’s is the part we don’t want to read. It’s the part that reveals our sin and shows us that we will receive as much mercy and forgiveness as we given others. St James wrote, ‘There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment’ (James 2.13 CEB). Do we want to know how to react to others? Mercy. Forgiveness. Love.
‘So, we’re just supposed to let people walk all over us? We’re supposed to be door mats?’ I say a resounding, ‘Yes’. If that is what we want to call living as Christ in the world, then so be it. When will we stop living for ourselves and start living for others? We are called to be the Word of God made flesh. We are to be Christ to those we meet and seek Christ within them. There are no other opinions on this matter, friends. Jesus said that we are to forgive as God forgives. Notice that the man in the story didn’t ask for forgiveness. He asked for patience so he could repay his debt. But the king forgave the debt instead. That is the picture of the type of forgiveness that Jesus is talking about. I’ve heard people say that we are only to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. That’s not the story Jesus tells. That’s not the way Jesus lived. He forgave without being asked. When he was dying on the cross he said, ‘Father-Mother, forgive them.’ No one was asking for it. When Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, ‘Father-Mother, forgive them.’ No one was asking for it. As the story shows us, violence and unforgiveness only continues to the cycle of more violence and unforgiveness. St Paul wrote, ‘Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good’ (Romans 12.21 CEB). I say, with all sorrow, that we have been defeated by evil and that every day we continue to hide our violent ways in the mask of ‘justice’, we are being defeated.
How should we have responded to those attacks ten years ago? With forgiveness. It is a hard road to walk. And Jesus never said it would be easy. But, for the follower of Jesus, that is the only road available. Forgive, my friends.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC