Fostering Forgiveness: Seek Mercy From God and Extend It to Others

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 17

Reconciling relationships is key to Christian living.
Reconciling relationships is key to Christian living. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Sept. 17, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35.

Today’s Gospel draws us into a sensitive area of the faith, that of forgiving others who may have harmed us.

In some cases, it may be the most challenging thing we are ever asked to do. Let’s look at this Gospel in three movements.

Peter says, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Peter’s question seems to presuppose that it is unrealistic to expect human beings to forgive without limit. Many would likely agree with Peter. Jesus answers by telling Peter that we cannot set limits on mercy or forgiveness.

This, of course, raises many questions. Must a wife welcome back her physically abusive husband if he says he’s sorry? Should a business welcome back an embezzler and put him in charge of the cash register if he says he’s sorry? These questions imply that forgiveness means pretending that something never happened.

No — rather, we are not always able to live in peace with people who have shown themselves untrustworthy or who cause serious harm to us or others.

Instead, forgiving means letting go of the hatred and anger we so often carry about.

It means learning to love those who have harmed us, even if we cannot live in close relationships with them.

The Lord speaks of a man who owed a debt he could never pay and is about to be enslaved for it.

In an astonishing act, the king forgives the entire debt! This man is us; this is our state before God.

We have a debt of sin so high and heavy that we can never hope to be rid of it on our own — no matter how many spiritual push-ups we do, how many novenas, chaplets and rosaries, or how much we give to the poor.

We can’t even make a noticeable dent in what we owe. We really have to understand this or we will never appreciate the gift the Lord has given us in forgiving us.

But instead of being moved by the gift of forgiveness he received, the man is cruel to others who owe him far less.

This results in the king punishing the man with the same sentence the man was prepared to inflict on his debtors.

Too many people are like this. They go through their lives unaware and unappreciative of that incredible mercy that has been extended to them.

Unaware, they are ungrateful and become harsh to others.

Be careful, for as Scripture says, “The measure you use for others will be used to measure you” (Matthew 7:2).

And again, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. But mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13).

Do you want to find mercy? Then receive it now from God and show it to others.

Otherwise, you will be judged with the strict justice you demand of others.

We just owe too much to think we can make it to heaven without great mercy.

The bottom line: Experience mercy from God and then share with others. God has been so merciful to us. If that will dawn on us, our hearts will break with joy and be filled with love; and forgiveness will surely come with a new heart free of anger and vengeance.

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