24th Sunday OTA

Sirach 27: 30 – 28: 7 Romans 14: 7-9 Mathew 18: 21-35

A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?” The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.” The husband asked: “How does that help?” She said: “I use your toothbrush!”

Today is the tenth anniversary of one of the worst days in the history of the United States. It still makes our blood boil to think of all the innocent people who were killed by the terrorists in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Many in America, sadly, have responded to hate with hate, to anger with anger. We do need to defend ourselves from terrorists. But we also need to realize that anger can often be misguided. It can turn into hatred. It often can be responsible for people acting in ways that certainly are not the ways of the Lord. Should we go on hating the terrorists who caused our country so much pain ten years ago? No. We hate the deed, but not the people. We hate the forces of evil causing so many deaths throughout the world. But we don’t hate the individuals. We can’t hate and be followers of Christ.

By a complete co-incidence, all three readings today remind us and challenge us to continue on the path to forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. Sirach, in the first reading, reminds his listeners that if they don’t heal and forgive and show mercy they can’t expect to receive much of that in return. Today’s Psalm speaks beautifully about God’s forgiving love: “God is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.” In the second reading, Paul reminds us that we have to forgive others because we belong to Christ who taught us by his own example to forgive. Since we humans are related as brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are in the family of God, so hatred and bitterness should have no place in our hearts.

In today’s gospel, through the parable of the two debtors, Jesus teaches us that there should be no limit to our forgiveness and no conditions attached to our reconciliation. We represent the greater debtor in the parable because we commit sins every day and, hence, need God’s forgiveness every day. But we must forgive in order to be forgiven. Jesus explains this after teaching the prayer, “Our Father.” “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you“

Three decades ago (1981) there was an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived. After he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison on Christmas day, with Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two years before had tried to assassinate him. When he emerged John Paul explained, “I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned.”

We will never forget the headline the next week in Time Magazine, “Why forgive?” That is a good question, one that has been asked for centuries. Today’s readings give the reasons. Three months after the terrible attack of September 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II, in his message for the annual World Day for Peace, taught clearly that there can be no peace without justice, and there can be no justice without forgiveness. That’s a message that has gone largely unheard and unheeded on all sides of today’s conflicts.

As we go home today let us take this message. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. (Francis of Assisi). Love in return for love is natural. Love in return for hate is supernatural. To err is human and to forgive divine. When it comes to forgiveness, Christ calls us all to divinity.