24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
13th September 2020
Year A – Psalter week 4
To be forgiven, you must forgive.
Today’s first reading and gospel remind us of the importance of forgiving others. In the teaching of Jesus this is essential, and even within the prayer he gave us, it is the only aspect that is conditional: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, as with many of Jesus’ parables, exaggerates a story in order to make a particularly important point. The contrast between the two sums of money is huge. The first slave owes a king what would nowadays be millions of pounds, and was more than the amount that would be collected in taxes in one year for a whole Roman province! The second slave owes the first slave what would equate to a couple of month’s wages as a casual labourer. While the first slave owes a fantastically large amount, we might ponder that, in actual fact, the forgiveness that we need from God over a lifetime is also astronomical, when one considers the myriad of selfish thoughts and desires that we have entertained and harboured within our minds and hearts, for the multiple times when we have acted out of those thoughts and desires whether individually or collectively, or when we have failed through fear, selfishness or laziness to love God with all our heart, soul and might (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4).
Once again, we are being called to the path of humility, where we recognise our true situation and dependence upon God for everything, which must include forgiveness for every sin if we are to enter the life of heaven. When we ourselves need such forgiveness, we act unjustly when we hold back forgiveness towards those who have hurt us or our loved ones. That’s not to say that the pain inflicted may not have been extremely grave and damaging, and certainly someone may not deserve forgiveness, but that’s not the point. We do not deserve forgiveness either. Rather, forgiveness is something received through the free gift of grace.
When it comes to forgiving others, I think that we often make the mistake of thinking that we should somehow “feel” that we have forgiven and that we should immediately have nice warm feelings towards that person. This is very rarely the case. Rather, forgiveness begins with a decision, an act of the will that may or may not come with feelings. It’s the decision to choose to forgive despite the pain, to ask God for the grace to forgive that person, and to ask for God’s help in letting go of feelings such as bitterness, resentment, anger, condemnation and vengeance. It’s not to pretend that what happened did not happen, but rather, to begin to unlock and release all the negative effects that what that person did, or failed to do, has had upon our inner life both then and now. Unforgiveness keeps such feelings locked within us and causes our hearts to harden, which affects our lives and all our relationships negatively, and can even cause physical problems in our bodies. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks our hearts and allows the healing process to begin. It may take time, even a lifetime, and we may need to keep choosing to forgive rather than it being simply a one-off decision, but by continually asking for the grace to forgive, it gives permission for the Lord to act.
One particularly effective remedy is to pray for the person who has hurt us and to ask the Lord to give that person a knowledge of His love and the grace of forgiveness. In order for that person to heal fully, they also may one day need to see and acknowledge what they have done and the devastating effects that their words and actions have had upon us and upon others. That’s the Lord’s work, and it helps to remember that there is no one whom the Lord has created that He does not love and whom He does not have a plan for, to be the person they are meant to be in Him. We could even ask the Lord to help us to experience and to see at least a glimpse of His love and thoughts for that child of His.
The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you, says the Lord.