SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR A
By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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Why It's So Hard to Forgive

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

There is the story of a man named George Wilson who in 1830 killed a government employee who caught him in the act of robbing the mails. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging. But the then President of the United States, Andrew Jackson granted him executive pardon. George Wilson, however, refused to accept the pardon. The Department of Corrections did not know what to do. The case was taken to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice Marshall ruled that "a pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged." And hanged he was. Even if we are opposed to the death penalty, we still cannot but agree with the principle that pardon granted has to be accepted to become effective. This is the point of today's gospel. When God forgives us, we must accept God's forgiveness. The gospel then goes on to show us that the way to accept God's forgiveness is not just to say "Amen, so be it!" but to go out and forgive someone else.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant raises the frightening prospect that pardon already granted by God could be revoked. The king who forgave his servant his debt meant it. But when the servant went out and failed to forgive his fellow servant, the king revoked the pardon. By his action the servant had shown that he did not appreciate and therefore was unworthy of the pardon he had been given. Is this a good analogy of how God deals with us? That seems to be the point of the parable. "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (Matthew 18:35). In other words, when God gives us His word of forgiveness, everything is not over yet. The deal is finally concluded only when we are able to go out and forgive those who sin against us. The free grace of God's forgiveness needs our response of forgiving our neighbour to be finally ratified. Isn't that a frightening thought? "Forgive your neighbours the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray" (Sirach 28:2).

Why do we find it hard to forgive others even though that is the only way to anchor God's forgiveness? I think the reason is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness. Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii our neighbour owes us rather than the 10,000 talents we owe to God, which God has graciously cancelled.

Let us think about this in proportion. A denarius is a labourer's daily wage. So his fellow servant owed him 100 days pay, which could be paid back in a couple of months. But this same servant owed his master 10,000 talents. A talent was equal to 6,000 denarii. So he owed his master the equivalent of 60,000,000 denarii. For a labourer working 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year, it would take 250,000 years to raise that kind of money. This astronomical figure shows that the servant owed his master so much that there was absolutely no way he could ever hope to repay that. This is symbolic of the debt each of us owes God through sin; a debt we could never ever hope to repay even if we spent out whole life is sackcloth and ashes. Not even the combined penitence of all humankind suffices to blot out a single sin. But God in his infinite mercy sent his own Son to die on the cross and take away our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realise that He has done for us so much more than we could ever be required to do for our neighbour.

If we find ourselves in the club of those who find it so hard to forgive other people, chances are that we have not come to appreciate and celebrate sufficiently the immeasurable forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God. So, let us pray today for a deeper appreciation of the amazing love that God has shown us in Christ. It is this awareness that will make it easier for us to let others off the hook for their relatively minor offences against us.

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