TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
(Texts: Sirach 27:33-28:9; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)
By Fr. Augustine Agwulonu, OP
By forgiving our sisters and brothers we imitate God who has first forgiven us
Today’s Gospel text begins with a question, which Peter directs to Jesus – Lord, if my brother (or sister) sins against me, how often must I forgive? A question at the beginning of a discourse often aims at capturing the attention of the audience. It raises curiosity and exposes the desire to learn. However, more than simply to awaken the curiosity of the audience, the question in today’s Gospel also touches on the depth of the Christian life. It flows from the very heart of fellowship with Christ.
Now, notice the identity of the hypothetical offending person, “my brother” (ho adelphos mou)! It is often our own brothers and sisters, our relatives, and our friends who offend us repeatedly. Strangers might sin against us, but it is not often done repeatedly. And so, Peter’s question is spot on! How many times then can one forgive one’s offending brother or sister? If we have to engage in a life-long relationship as brothers, sisters, marriage, community life, etc., how often should we forgive sins against us? Seven times should be enough, so Peter thought! But Jesus recommends that forgiveness should be a part of one’s life.
The sins of a brother or a sister or a friend against one another, no matter how many times they are repeated, can never be compared to a person’s own sins against God’s majesty. Think about how close God is to us! He created us! He supplies us with all our needs! He sustains our lives! And above all he sends his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins! And so, God’s forgiveness must be the ideal for our individual practices of forgiveness for our brothers and sisters who sin against us. The parable of the debtors in today’s Gospel dramatizes the fact that our acts of forgiveness is in response to God’s generosity in forgiving us our sins. If we receive forgiveness for our sins against others, then we must also offer our forgiveness to others, especially when they ask for it. We forgive because we have been forgiven by God and most probably by our brothers, sisters, parents, and friends.
By practicing forgiveness, we bear witness to the fact that we are forgiven sinners. Furthermore, through the act of forgiveness, we express our union with Christ, who died, rose, and now lives for us. Thus, St. Paul can state categorically in his letter to the Romans that we live and die for the Lord. We recognize and acknowledge the intrinsic, personal, interpersonal, and communal union between Jesus and his followers. Just as Christ lived, died, rose, and now lives for us, so too we live, so shall we die, rise, and so shall we live eternally for and with Jesus Christ. The awareness and appreciation of this truth of faith is the beginning of the new life in Jesus and in communion with the Blessed Trinity.
One major characteristic of Jesus is his generous practice of forgiveness. Our Lord understands the importance and necessity of forgiveness. He lived this truth in a deeply moving manner on the cross! Forgiveness is a form of the demonstration of the freedom we have in Jesus. To forgive is to live free, healthy, and joyful. This is the message of today’s Gospel. The old minimalist approach to forgiveness must give way to the freedom and generosity of letting go of injuries in order to let the abundant life flow freely in us. Forgiveness is not foolishness, but rather it is wisdom and communion with the Blessed Trinity, in the union of love, harmony, and peace.
The first reading says that the sinner is one who harbours rancour and anger in themselves. This is certainly a sure way to choke life out of oneself. I once heard of the saying that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting offender to die. Forgiveness is elixir for healthy and joyful living; the imitation of Jesus who reconciles God and human beings.