The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Week XXIV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 13 September 2020 Sirach 27:30-28:7 >><)))*> Romans 14:7-9 >><)))*> Matthew 18:21-35
This Sunday we go deeper into the lessons gathered by Matthew from Jesus regarding love as the basis of our relationships. Last week we were told how mutual love is the sole reason why we correct brothers and sisters going stray in life.
But, more sensitive and delicate, not to mention most difficult than fraternal correction is the question of forgiving.
How many times should we forgive?
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kind who decided to settle accounts wit his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before hm who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all is property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.Matthew 18:21-27
Forgiving is always difficult because it is from God, calling us to be one with him, one in him, and be like him as that saying perfectly summed up, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is beyond human abilities, reserved only for God until he became human like us in Jesus Christ who made us share in his greatest expression of love which is forgiveness. Hence, every time we forgive, we also become like God, divine and holy that unfortunately, we refuse and even hate!
Yes, it is very difficult because like love, forgiving is the nature of God. In fact, any kind of love is best expressed when it is forgiving. The good news is that we now share in this great love of God in forgiving others like him as we shall see in today’s parable, keeping in mind also that it was the Risen Lord’s commission to his disciples when he appeared to them on that Easter evening (John 20:22-23).
Forgiving like God our Father
The beauty of forgiving is that it is always a grace from God freely given to us. It is doable in Jesus Christ. The problem is when we refuse to let God work in us, when we refuse to level up our relationships to that of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
There is always that pride in us exhibited by Peter at the start of the gospel today when he asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. Must it be seven times?
Of course, seven being a “perfect number” does not specify a numerical figure of times to forgive except that it gives enough room to let go of a sinner or an offender. However, it still connotes some form of “counting” or taking tabs at how many times must one forgive, implying a limit.
But Jesus pushed it further when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” — that is, twice the perfect number he had cited!
The Lord is telling Peter, and us today, to forget all about keeping tabs, of counting how many times you must forgive because God forgives us without limits which his parable tells us.
The king or master in the parable is God, so wealthy that he could lend sums exceeding the normal level of what one can borrow. Most surprising is like God, the master lent so much amount beyond the debtor’s ability to pay!
That is how rich our God is — so rich in love and mercy, giving us with so much even beyond our ability to pay him back in return. Exactly what we have in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”
And when that servant prostrated before his master, then the more we see in that religious gesture the deeper meaning of the parable: the rich mercy of God forgiving us for our debts even after we have lost everything like that debtor with nothing enough to pay his loans, not even his wife and children.
See the contrast of the king moved with compassion echoing the same attitude of Jesus so often like in the wilderness where he fed more than 5000 people and that servant so lost with nothing else left but still forgiven.
The parable could have stopped there but Jesus went on to continue what happened next to teach us the deeper truth of forgiving, which is imitating God our Father because we are brothers and sisters in him.
When this servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him… but he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger is master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”Matthew 18:28-35
Forgiving from the heart
After hearing the second part of the parable, we all felt like the master, angry and indignant with that merciless servant whose action was very shameless and scandalous. But, more than being like the king who properly judged the conduct of that merciless servant, Jesus is also inviting us to probe deeper into our hearts the realities why we felt like the king in the parable?
How many times have we felt so angry and frustrated during this pandemic period at the many occasions when we heard news of injustices and abuse of powers against the little ones like Mang Dodong or the Marawi verteran shot to death in Quezon City? Of those punished in violating the protocols when its chief implementor got away free after attending a mañanita party?
The list goes on specially in our country where laws favor the abusive rich and powerful, those with connections while ordinary citizens with lesser violations, even without any crimes at all suffer the same fate as the servant with lesser debts.
We all feel so angry and very sad because more than the injustices and lack of mercies committed by those in powers, they have forgotten we are brothers and sisters in one God our Father. Parang sila lang ang anak ng Diyos…
We feel like the king in the parable because we felt left out, disregarded, and disrespected despite our kindness and mercy with others.
Forgiving from the heart means to forgive others not because we are fellow servants but most of all as brothers and sisters of a loving and merciful Father who forgives us always from our unpayable debts of sin and evil against each other.
This is the very thing St. Paul is telling us in the second reading, that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself” (Rom.14:7). Sometimes we need to be in control of our lives but the truth is, when we try to live St. Paul’s message that our lives belong to one another in Christ, the more we become truly free and happy.
It is the same reminder from Ben Sirach in the first reading telling us how we must avoid anger and resentment specially revenge because it is contrary to our faith in God. Most of all, we also know so well that we need the mercy of God in forgiving our countless sins.
The example of St. John Paul II about forgiving like God
I know what I am telling you are easier said than done. And I confess that I also find it so hard to forgive people who have wronged me, specially those I have loved and helped. Allow me to end this reflection with this beautiful bit of history that happened in our lifetime.
We were in high school seminary when Mehmet Agca shot and almost killed St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. We were shocked, so sad for him and very angry with Agca. But, two years later after Christmas in 1983, we were more shocked in disbelief while at the same time in tears with joy when news came out that St. John Paul II came to visit Agca in his cell to forgive him!
It was a major news that landed on TIME magazine the following year with the cover story so relevant with our gospel today:
Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives…
Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.
Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another’s control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other’s initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else’s nightmare. “Unless there is a breach with the evil past,” says Donald Shriver, “all we get is this stuttering repetition of evil.”Lance Morrow, TIME Magazine, 19 January 1984
As I searched for photos of the assassination attempt on him by Agca, I came across this photo below of their meeting with an accompanying report that made me admire and love St. “JP2” more than ever.
It said that while recuperating in the hospital, St. JP2 learned from the news how people hated Agca, prompting him to ask everyone to “pray for my brother (Agca)… whom I have sincerely forgiven.” That is how holy is this great Pope of our time! Long before visiting Agca in 1983, St. JP2 had already forgiven him, calling him a “brother” despite the evil and sin done to him.
What a great Amen!
Have a blessed and wonderful week ahead, brothers and sisters in Christ!