24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) Mt. 18: 21-35 - Sep 17, 17

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? Jesus answered (…) not seven times but seventy- seven times. “

There was a big genocide in Rwanda in 1994 where more than one million people were killed. A Franciscan from that country tells that among them, his father, a brother, a number of his relatives, and many friends and neighbors died. Being at the Franciscan seminary, at the time of the genocide, he escaped it. A year after the genocide, and when he had being ordained a priest, he came back to his native country. Some people feared if he was looking for retaliation, but not, he went to jail to visit some of the killers and ask them to repent and he forgave them. Then he celebrated a funeral Mass for his father, and also to forgive the criminals.

Today's gospel is taken from a section of Matthew's gospel where Jesus teaches the dynamics of a Christian community which are unity, tolerance, and reconciliation. And Christ teaches that this oneness among his disciples is the authentic witness to him, expressed through forgiveness. Peter as a good member of the Old Testament, asks the Lord, "¿How many times must I forgive my neighbor? Then, he proposes a solution, the number seven. The Lord then teaches to Peter and to us what true perfection is. His disciples will forgive not seven times, but seventy-times seven times. They will forgive time and time again, unlimited time, without counting.

We as Church give witness in the way we forgive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Thus the Lord's words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end (Jn 13:1) become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord's teaching on ecclesial community, ends with these words: 'So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.' (Mt. 18:23-25) It is there, in fact, ‘in the depths of the heart,’ that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession." (CCC 2843)

The forgiveness of Jesus cancelling our debt should inspire us to forgive others. Sometimes people tell me they cannot forgive. Perhaps a family member, a relative or friend has hurt them. They keep thinking about what that person did, even wanting in some way to get back. I tell them that forgiveness is a gift we should ask for to the Holy Spirit. We forget people names, we forget birthdays, we forget appointments, we forget the evil we have done to others, but we do not forget injuries we have received. We try to forget hurts for a time, but they come back. The first step to forgiveness is to acknowledge offenses, what Jesus calls "debts." But like the debtor in today's Gospel they do not want to pay what they owe. So we have two alternatives: We can put them in jail, that is, condemn them, or we can let them go, forgive the debt.

By recognizing Jesus' forgiveness we must forgive those who have offended us, and that is not easy. By the matter of fact it is the hardest part of Christian life. It is very hard to be in debt and having no way of paying. Well, the Gospel is called "Good News," and Jesus has taken our debt. But there is a condition. It is very clear today in the Gospel and we say it every time we pray the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In the parable of forgiveness Jesus tells us today that the king is his Father, and when one of his officials begs him to be patient and give him time to pay a huge amount, the king just decided to cancel the entire debt. This for sure does not happen when you owe money to the bank, or do not have way to pay your bills or your credit card. No matter how much you beg, they are not going to cancel the debt. But God’s mercy is infinitely different. We humans are limited and we set conditions. But God’s generosity has no limit. With God we do not use credit cards, but gift cards.

Let´s not forget the Franciscan from Rwanda´s testimony. We must never forget God’s generosity either in our History of Salvation, that God the Father gave up his Son to death, for us, and we are reminded of this at the consecration of the wine, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

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