Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Introduction – Over the next couple of weeks, all of us will be invited to consider how we are called to be Disciples of Mercy. Each of us, as baptized Christians, are invited to follow Jesus and imitate our lives based on his own example. The Scriptures are full of instances where Jesus traveled throughout the Holy Land bringing those He encountered to a deeper experience of God’s love and mercy. He reached out to the outcast. He healed the sick, cured the lame, and brought sight to the blind. He spoke the Truth to those He met, calling them to recognize and embrace their true identities as beloved sons and daughters of a Father who loved them so deeply, despite all the suffering or hardship they had experienced in their lives. Finally, he showed them the lengths that God was willing to go to manifest that love to a world so desperately in need of it. And as followers of the Savior of the World, we are called to bring that same Good News to the world today. We are called to be Disciples of Mercy.
What is a Disciple of Mercy? – What does it mean to be a Disciple of Mercy? It means recognizing that 1) we have been forgiven by God and are now called to bring that same forgiveness to others; 2) it means recognizing the grace that God has given us and being generous with returning that same grace to others; and 3) it means remembering our own humility and calling on the Lord to help us move past how others have hurt us. Forgiveness, generosity, humility. Over the next three weeks, these will be the topics of our homilies and we will open the meaning of each of those aspects of being disciples of mercy. This evening, we will focus on forgiveness.
Forgiveness – In our readings today, the Church gives us the Christian standard for forgiveness. In our Gospel reading from Matthew, we read about this interaction between Jesus and St. Peter. This conversation immediately follows last week’s Gospel passage where Jesus instructed his disciples about the importance of fraternal correction in order to bring about a resolution to disputes amongst members of the Christian community. So Peter asks the Lord how often we should forgive those individuals who have sinned against us and if 7 times would be a sufficient number. Peter must have thought that his number of 7 times was sufficiently generous but Jesus takes it a step further. Jesus responds by challenging Peter and the disciples to the idea of unlimited forgiveness. He says: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” This response is not meant to limit forgiveness to 77 instances. Instead, it expresses the idea that we are called to be boundless in our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us.
How does Jesus go about explaining this further? By doing what he normally does to dive deeper into a subject…by telling a story, by sharing a parable. Today’s parable is known as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Jesus uses this to not only explain why we are called to be forgiving to others, but also what will happen to us if we’re not as forgiving as we should be.
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant: Part I – In the first part of the parable, Jesus gives the details about a servant who owes the king an incredible amount of debt. Our translation of the Scripture really doesn’t do this passage any justice. The Greek translation of this says that the servant owes the king a “myriad of talents.” To the Greeks, a myriad was the largest number…for us it would be like an infinite amount. And a talent is the largest monetary unity worth 6,000 days wages. Think about this, one talent in the days of Jesus represented half a lifetime of wages. Basically, this servant owed so much money that he was never going to be able to pay it back. And so he begs the king to be merciful and to forgive the debt, which would have put the king in an incredible predicament. Think about how much the king could have done with that money. Instead, the king is boundless in his willingness to forgive and shows the servant an unlimited amount of mercy.
God is the King – If it isn’t obvious yet, there is a reason Jesus opens the parable with this first part. He is using it to explain to the disciples the boundless nature of God’s mercy. We are the servants who owe the king (God) everything – our very lives, everything we have ever achieved, everything we have ever received, every person who is part of our lives, everything is a gift from Him. And the most important and powerful gift that we have received from God is the very gift of His Son, Jesus. The debt we owe the Father who sacrificed His Son on the Cross is the same debt that this servant owed the king in today’s parable. And yet, every time we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Lord doesn’t hold this debt against us. Instead, He runs to us and forgives us that debt every single time.
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant: Part II – It would be great if that was the end of the parable…but it isn’t. There’s a second part. After this servant is forgiven, what does he do? He goes up to someone who owes him a debt and when that other gentleman is not able to pay, he has him thrown in jail. If the servant wanted his debt repaid, how can the other guy repay it if he’s in prison? He can’t! Notice the juxtaposition here. The servant is forgiven his debt by the King but doesn’t return that same favor to someone else. And you know the rest of the story…the King finds out and has the unforgiving servant tortured until the original debt was owed. Then Jesus says something pretty ominous, a warning to us: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
What does this mean for us? – All of us have been the recipients of God’s forgiveness in one way or another. Most of us have done things in our lives that were contrary to the Gospel and we have sought the Lord’s forgiveness for those times when we turned away from Him. We have brought those things to the Lord in the confessional with contrite hearts, resolved to try harder to live as better disciples in the future. Because God has been forgiving to us, we are now called to bring that same forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Because the standard with which we forgive, will be the standard which God uses to forgive us. There’s a line in the Our Father, a prayer we pray at every Mass, that scares me to death: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Are we living that out in our lives? Are we forgiving others as God has forgiven us? Are we truly living as Disciples of Mercy and allowing God to use us as instruments to bring His mercy into the lives of others?
Saintly Disciple of Mercy: St. John Paul II – If we want a tangible example of what this forgiveness looks like, we have someone who gave witness to what it means to truly be a Disciple of Mercy. Pope St. John Paul II was an instrumental figure in many of our lives as someone who brought the Gospel to life in everything that he did. But one instance stands out in my mind. On May 13, 1981, John Paul was preparing for one of his weekly audiences in St. Peter’s Square. As he drove around waving to the pilgrims who had come to Rome, multiple gunshots rang out. The Pope was shot in the stomach and in the finger. Thankfully he survived that assassination attempt and made a complete recovery. But months after being shot, John Paul II did something remarkable. He went to the prison where the gunman who shot him was being held. He met with the man, prayed with him, and forgave him. That is what it means to be a Disciple of Mercy. It means loving those who have injured us and forgiving them even if what they have done is so unforgivable.
Conclusion – Forgiveness is so important because it transforms our hearts. We cannot heal the wounds of our own hearts if we have not first forgiven and wounds that are not transformed are transmitted. So today, as we continue with our Eucharistic celebration, let’s call to mind those who have hurt us, those who have sinned against us. If we are able to forgive them, I encourage you to do that tonight as you come forward to receive the Lord. If you aren’t able to offer that forgiveness to someone tonight…and there are some who may not be able to…I simply encourage you to ask the Lord for the grace to begin the process of forgiving tonight. Why? Because the world needs us to be Disciples of Mercy. The Lord needs us to be the instruments that bring his love and mercy to others. Do we have the willingness to start tonight?