I want to reflect briefly on the Gospel reading for today. You can read it here, or just open your Bible to Mathew 18:21-35.
First, I want to look at the exchange between Jesus and the Apostle Peter. Peter, asking the Lord how many times he should forgive his neighbor, suggests an answer to his own question–7 times. Now, Peter thought he was pretty hot stuff here, because according to Jewish law you only had to forgive your neighbor 3 times before seeking justice. Not only did Peter double that number, but he added one–clearly he went above and beyond the requirements of the Law. However, Jesus responds that he must forgive his neighbor 77 times. In Bible-speak that basically translates to an “inconceivable amount”. No Jew of their time would ever have fathomed forgiving a neighbor that many times. This is the incredible challenge that Christ gives us, to forgive unceasingly. God does this as well, although he also deal out Divine Justice as well… but only per our choice.
The second half of the Gospel is the parable Christ tells to illustrate the need for human forgiveness, the gift of Divine mercy, and manifestation of Divine Justice. Interpreting from the allegorical sense, the Master in the parable is God, who despite us being unworthy and completely unable to pay our debt to him, forgave us our debts and allows us to live with him. Because God has forgiven us, we must also forgive our brethren. When we are “trespassed against”, we must show mercy and forgive those have hurt us. Why? Because when we fail to live in the light and example of God’s mercy, we are choosing rather to live in His justice–and what is the justice of non-forgiving? Being unforgiven. This is what results in Hell (or in the case of the parable, torture).
I think it especially providential that these readings occurred on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say–God wants us to forgive the men who did this and who continue to do such things. Should we wish Hell on these men, and on Osama Bin Laden? No, for that is not love. Instead we should forgive them, choose to move on and not let it control our lives, and even radically pray for their conversion and entrance into heaven. It’s a hard message to hear, many wounds are still open or never actually healed properly, but I urge you, if you want to receive God’s mercy you must give mercy yourself… and if you can do it with Sept 11, you can pretty much do it with anything.
May you find love and mercy in your heart.