I hate being wrong. I especially hate it when the scripture so clearly demonstrates how very wrong I am so much of the time. I think this is why I love Peter: because like Peter, I can be a bit thick. Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive one who sins against him: as many as seven?! He asks incredulously. You can almost imagine Jesus shaking his head slightly, thinking How can I get through to this numb skull?, before he responds, Seventy seven times! That probably wasn’t the answer Peter wanted to hear. And if we are honest with ourselves, that isn’t the answer that we want to hear from Jesus either because sometimes it’s REALLY REALLY HARD to forgive someone. And in fact, in our own strength, it’s sometimes actually impossible. The good news is that the ability to forgive is actually a gift from God; the gift of conversion.
We see this in the parable from today’s gospel. A slave has an enormous debt – ten thousand talents – forgiven by a merciful king because the slave begs for forgiveness and throws himself on his master’s mercy. This king was INCREDIBLY merciful, because one talent was the equivalent of fifteen years wages for a laborer. So, ten thousand talents is the equivalent to 150,000 years wages!!! This exorbitant sum is clearly meant to shock us into thinking “No one can possibly pay that back!” And that’s the point.
Who can possibly repay God for all that He has given us, for His great love and mercy to each one of us: it’s beyond measure. And we see most clearly this extraordinary Divine generosity in the cross. For in the midst of his agony he was able to look at those who betrayed him, and was able to say “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
The king in the parable forgives the servant’s debt after the servant humbles himself and begs for mercy. But then something tragic happens. The servant who has been forgiven SO MUCH refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow slave who owes him just one hundred denarii. A denarius is worth about a day’s wages for a laborer. So, while his debt of 150,000 years worth of wages is forgiven by the generous king, he refuses to forgive the equivalent of 100 days wages to another. How could someone who had received such immeasurable mercy, refuse even a shred of mercy to his fellow man? And we are forced to ask ourselves: how often do we refuse to forgive? How often do we fail in living up to our covenant with God, to treat others with the same mercy and compassion that God grants with such incredible generosity? Perhaps because we don’t understand the nature of forgiveness. We don’t understand that our notions of justice and fairness are often distorted by personal interest: it’s all about us, in other words, and what we believe that we deserve. How can we inherit the kingdom of heaven if we’re always keeping score like this? In comparison to the unconditional love of Jesus Christ our notions of justice and fairness are just like that of the unforgiving servant in this parable: an attempt at self-justification that ignores the infinite mercy of God. When we refuse to forgive another, we lock ourselves into a prison, in which we are tortured by our own inflated sense of righteousness.
Humility, and begging for the Grace of God to free us from this prison of our own making is the only way out.
The good news for us today, is that there is a way out of this prison of resentment: to beg God to convert us, truly and profoundly. Our forgiveness is meant to be as limitless as God’s. This season of Lent is an ideal time to take a moral inventory of our own, and look at who we have refused to forgive, perhaps especially if we have refused to forgive ourselves. If you’re like me, you hate being wrong, and you hold onto resentment, secretly seething in self-justification: We need to stop torturing ourselves like this.
Do we want to be right, or do we want to be merciful? God, I believe, wants us to be merciful. And I believe God longs to convert us, day by day, so that we are able to truly forgive our “brothers and sisters from our hearts”.
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