All We Owe

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 17

(photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Sept. 17, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Sirach 27:30--28:7; Psalms 103:1-4, 9-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35.

In today’s Gospel, Peter asks the famous question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Then he explains why. We are like the debtor in his story who is forgiven a great deal by the king, but then refuses to forgive a much smaller debt to his brother.

Every detail of the story applies to us.  

The debtor brought before the king owes 10,000 talents; an inconceivable sum, as if the whole national debt were applied to one person. What we owe God is even more: Every good thing we own, every positive memory, every talent, every loved one, every color in our garden and every good, true and beautiful thing we hope to discover belongs to him.

He has given it all to us, and what have we done? We have often forgotten where it came from, taken God for granted, kept him at arm’s length and used his own goods to disobey his will.

If we repent like the servant in the story — if we fall down, do him homage, and pray, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full,” he shows mercy on us, forgiving this gigantic debt.

But the next part of the story applies to us also.

We find another servant of the Lord who owes much less to us. They have offended us by something they said or didn’t say. Perhaps they caused us financial hardship. Maybe they offended us at home, or maybe they got crosswise with us at work one too many times.

At any rate, we decide we are done with them. We don’t forgive them. We don’t speak with them. We can hardly even pray for them. We say with our words or with our silence, “You can never pay back what you owe.” Like the servant in the parable, we put them in prison until they pay back what they owe — an impossible situation for both of us.

It is an absurd way for us to behave, and St. Paul explains why in the second reading.

“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself,” he says. “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.”

“Could anyone nourish anger against another,” says the first reading, “and expect healing from the Lord?”

Nothing is ours. Our goods aren’t ours, our fate isn’t ours, and it isn’t our place to judge those who offend us. All is God’s. When we meet Jesus Christ in the afterlife, he will look at what we have done with what he gave us, and that will include what we have done with those who lived and worked beside us.

Then he will judge us on one commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”


Tom Hoopes is writer

in residence at

Benedictine College and

author of The Fatima

Family Handbook.