Sunday Readings: Sirach 27.30-28.7; Romans 14.7-9; Matthew 18.21-35
Peter came and asked Jesus this question. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” “Not seven time, but I tell you, seventy times seven,” Jesus replied. – Matthew 18.21-22
How can a servant who has his own debt forgiven turn around and throttle a fellow servant who owes him far less? Why doesn’t he forgive as he has been forgiven? Why throw the debtor into prison, the very punishment the servant had pleaded not to receive.
Forgiveness was not the normal thing in the merciless servant’s world. Putting a debtor in prison or selling a family into slavery were customary ways to settle accounts. It is the king’s change of heart that was astoundingly abnormal. He didn’t just give the servant more time to pay him back; he wrote off the debt completely.
So the servant’s treatment of his fellow servant becomes unfair only in the light of the king’s extraordinary mercy. That’s the parable’s message: The reign of God turns things inside out, backwards, and upside down. Mercy and forgiveness, not payback and punishment, are the norm in God’s kin*dom.
Pope Francis describes the mercy of God as “the beating heart of the gospel” in his exhortation On Love in the Family. Relationships take time to build, the pope says. “There is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of growth as these progressively appear,” making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us to do our best” (#295).
Who has forgiven you? Whom have you forgiven? In your dealings, are you generous like God or more exacting like Scrooge?