Deacon Pat Homily - Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35
(24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A)
· Just how many times do I need to be kind?
· Do I really need to forgive when they truly did me wrong?
Aren’t these the type of questions we just heard Peter asking Jesus in the Gospel? And what did Jesus reply: “I say to you that you are not to forgive 7 times, but 77 times.”
Forgiveness, for Jesus, is not a quantifiable event.
It is a quality; a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, and a way of thinking and seeing.
It is nothing less than “The Way of Christ.”
If we are to follow Christ then it must be our way as well.
“Not 7 times, but, I tell you, 77 times.
· Does that mean the drunk driver? Yes.
· The rapist? Yes.
· The cheating spouse? Yes.
· The lying friend, the bully, the abusive parent, the greedy businessman, and even the imperfect priest or deacon? Yes!
Today we stand at a difficult, seemingly impossible, place.
We stand at the intersection of our perception of life’s realities and Christ’s teachings.
As we look at the history of the world we see the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, perceived discriminations, economic oppression, and wars and torture in the Middle East.
As we look at our own lives we find broken promises, hurt feelings, betrayals, harsh words, and physical and emotional wounds.
Every one of us could tell stories of being hurt or victimized by another.
Yet beneath the pain, the wounds, the losses, and the memories, lay the question of forgiveness.
Everyone, I suspect, is in favor of forgiveness, at least in principle.
“Everyone,” C.S. Lewis writes, “Say forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something or someone to forgive”
What do we do then?
What do we do when there is someone or something to forgive?
Some will strike back seeking revenge.
Some will run away from life and relationships.
Some will let the darkness paralyze them.
I don’t say these things out of criticism or judgment of someone else, but out of my own experience. I’ve done them all.
I know how hard forgiveness can be.
Like you, I too, struggle with it and often avoid it.
I also know that none of those answers are the way of Christ.
All of them leave us stuck in the past, tied to the evil of another, and devoid of the future God wants to give us.
Forgiveness is the only way forward.
That does not mean we forget, condone, or approve of what was done.
It does not mean we ignore or excuse cruelty or injustice.
It means… that we are released from them.
We let go of the thoughts and fantasies of revenge.
We look to the future rather than the past.
We try to see and love as God sees and loves.
Forgiveness is a way in which we align our life with God’s life.
To withhold forgiveness is to put ourselves in the place of God, the ultimate judge to whom all are accountable.
A few days ago I returned from walking the “Camino de Santiago” or also known as “The Way of Saint James” in Spain.
For those of you who are not aware of what this is, it is an ancient pilgrimage where one walks across the country of Spain and ends the journey at the Cathedral where Saint James’ body rest.
250,000 people from all over the world make this journey each year.
We began our journey in France and walked over the Pyrenees Mountains, through the Basque country, across the flat lands, and later through the western mountains.
While walking those hundreds of miles through the beautiful forests and small hamlets I had a great deal of time, without distraction, to think about life and the Christian journey.
I came to realize that God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are closely intertwined.
And in today’s Gospel Parable I feel that Jesus is trying to teach us this lesson.
As you recall the King forgives his slave a huge amount and it seems that there is no debt too large to be forgiven.
The man, the debtor, was completely forgiven.
That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
That’s how our God is!
Yet, this slave refused to forgive his fellow slave a much small debt.
Too often that’s what our world is like.
Frequently, it is how we are.
It that refusal the forgiven slave lost his own forgiveness.
This concept should not be news to us.
We know it well.
We acknowledge and pray it every Sunday and I’ll bet most of you pray it every day.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Sound Familiar? (Repeat verse)
We pray those words with ease and familiarity but do we live our prayer?
Do our actions support our request? Not 7 times, but, I tell you, 77 times.”
That’s a lot of forgiveness, but the pain of the world, our nation, and individuals is great.
We need to forgive as much, maybe more, for ourselves as for the one we forgive.
Forgiving those who trespass against us is the medicine that begins to heal our wounds.
It may not change the one who hurt you but I promise you this:
Your life will be more alive, more grace-filled, more whole, and more God-like for having forgiven another.
Forgiveness creates space for new life.
Forgiveness is an act of hopefulness and resurrection for the one who forgives.
It is the healing of our soul and life.
Forgiveness takes us out of darkness into light, from death to life.
It disentangles us from the evil of another.
It is the refusal to let our Future be determined by the past.
It is the letting go of the thoughts, the hatred, and the fear that fill us, so that we might live and love again.
Yet, we must understand that Forgiveness does not originate is us.
It begins with God.
That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.
It was not about him.
It is about God.
We do not choose to forgive.
We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.
Then we choose again, and then again, and then again.
For most of us, forgiveness is a process that we live into.
Sometimes, however, we just can’t.
The pain is too much, the wound too raw, the memories too real.
On those days we choose to want to forgive.
Some days we choose to want, to want to forgive.
But we choose because that’s the choice Christ made.
Finally, and in conclusion I would like to share that at the end of our recent time in Spain, my brother and I realized that we had a few extra days before we were to return home, so we rented a car and drove the 5 hours it took to arrive in Fatima, Portugal.
As we knelt down directly on the spot of the most public miracle of all times, we pondered the question of the real meaning of life, at least the life of a Catholic Christian.
Sorting and sifting through an abundance of thoughts, memories, and ideals, it seemed, as inspired by the faith and life of the Shepherd children: Jacinta, Lucia, and Francisco, and understood with a simple and childlike understanding:
We are to love as we are loved.
That we are to forgive as we are forgiven.
And that true humility means, knowing our proper relationship to God
And that one day we will be judged for how we have lived, loved, and forgiven.
We must ask ourselves these questions before it is too late and while we can still change our ways:
Am I truly living the Christian life?
Have I applied Christ’s teachings to my life?
Am I living a daily and constant life filled with compassion, patience, understanding, kindness, and love?
And if not, am I willing to change?
And if not, do I truly understand what to expect for the eternal future,
My eternal future….and Your…Eternal…Future!