Weekly Gospel Reflection — 14 September 2014

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

This is another one of those passages that people don’t like to think of on Jesus’ lips. Or, at least, they don’t like to think that Yahweh’s Realm actually works the way it’s described here.

And while I understand this need, we’re basing it on our own sensibilities and not the historical context. We may not like to think G-d’s Realm works this way, but Jesus said, “The Realm of G-d is like…”

However, with all parables I remember a scene from the movie Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee. After working with a student, Bruce points away and says “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon.” The student just stares at Bruce’s hand. Bruce smacks him on head and says,“Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.”

In other words, parables are a way of pointing to something else. We shouldn’t get so caught up in the parable that we miss “all that heavenly glory.” And, in this parable, that “heavenly glory” is forgiveness. But, it’s forgiveness with an edge.

The part that’s hard for us is the idea that the “king” in the story represents Yahweh. And if that’s true, then G-d’s not very nice. It seems that Yahweh can remove forgiveness away and mete out justice instead. And we all know where we’d be if that were the case with us.

And maybe that’s the part that bothers us the most. If Yahweh actually treats us the way we treat others, then most of us will end up in a situation that we won’t like.

But, whether we like it or not, we’ve seen forgiveness depicted this way over and over again in Matthew’s telling of the Jesus’ story. That is, Yahweh’s forgiveness extended to us is paralleled to (and exponentially more than) our forgiveness given to others.

In chapter 6, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (v. 12; emphasis added). Here we see that Yahweh’s forgiveness of us is tied directly to our forgiveness of others.

Jesus went on to explain, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father-Mother will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father-Mother forgive your sins” (vv. 14-15; amended; emphasis added). In the passage above, Jesus returns to this same theme.

In other words, if we want to be forgiven — and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t — we must forgive others. Not the kind of “forgiveness” that holds grudges, that’s really only lip-service while we’re waiting for the chance to get even. No, our actions must be an extension of our forgiveness. As St. Paul wrote,

Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.

If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for [Yahweh’s] wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says [Yahweh]. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good (Romans 12.17-21; cf. 1Peter 3.9; amended).

So, while we may not like to think G-d forgives the way we do, Jesus seems to be trying to warn us.

Or, perhaps, this is another one of those karmic things; i.e., what goes around comes around. Jesus clearly believed and taught that principle, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Why? Because how we treat others will be how we’re treated. Here, Jesus once more tells us that how we forgive others is how we’ll be forgiven.

It’s a hard lesson. And we may not like it. But that’s the truth of it.

However, and I think this is something that we really miss, is the last part of the parable. Even though the servant is imprisoned, he isn’t left there. He’s there until he’s “paid back the entire debt.” So, while there may be some pain as we learn how to properly forgive, Mercy doesn’t leave us in our pain and misery. G-d’s Mercy releases us. Restores us. Not only to Yahweh, but to the ones who hurt us and we held grudges against. We will truly learn to forgive as Yahweh forgives, whether in this life or the next. I think Jesus is compelling us to learn that lesson now.

Br. Jack+, LC

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


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