SIRACH 27:30-28:7 | ROMANS 14:7-9 | MATTHEW 18:21-35
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”
These words of wisdom were written 200 years before the birth of Jesus by the sage, Sirach. Sounds like the teaching Jesus delivered. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” It sounds, too, like the prayer Jesus taught us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In the gospel passage today, Jesus answered a question Peter asked about the number of times we’re obliged to forgive our neighbor by spinning a lengthy parable about a servant who owed a huge amount of money to his master the king. After listening to his plea for leniency, the king wrote off his entire debt. Everybody knew that the king symbolized God, the great King. They understood that Jesus was teaching them that God’s compassion and forgiveness were radical and boundless. But….the parable went on.
That same servant left the glow of the King’s chamber and bumped into a fellow servant who
owed him a pittance. He beat him and had him dragged to prison because he couldn’t repay the little he owed. I don’t know any Hebrew curses but I’ll bet you that a bunch of them could be heard mumbled throughout the crowd describing the merciless servant. But justice was eventually served when the King heard of the incident and handed his servant to the torturers until he repaid his debt to the King. (I’m sure a cheer rose from the crowd.)
Jesus began the parable by saying, “the kingdom of God may be likened to…” In the kingdom everyone has to be like God – loving, merciful and, above all, forgiving.
Here we are, the followers of Jesus. We live in the world, but hope for the kingdom. We pray for its coming every day at the Eucharist, but the horrors of our many wars, the millions we’ve imprisoned, the burning political hostilities that plague us leave us angry and revengeful. Sometimes it seems we’re condemned to the torturers with the doors of the kingdom closed to us. We need to let go of resentment – to let compassion reign over justice – to free our hearts to forgive – to weep for our sins against each other – to heal our human family – to knock at the kingdom’s golden door – to kneel with Jesus and pray with him. “Father forgive them.”