Choosing to Forgive

  • September 13, 2020 (readings)
  • Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
  • Carey Boyzuck
  • Matthew 18:21-35

    Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? 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 king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him 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 his 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. When that 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, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him 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 his 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.”

    Opening Prayer: Oh my Jesus, as I begin this time of prayer, I realize that forgiving others can be difficult. Sometimes I am afraid of letting go of how others have hurt me. It makes me feel protected to hold on to that hurt. As I open my heart, help me to empty the fear and remember that you are my protector and have forgiven me for so many of my sins. 

    Encountering Christ:

    1. A Priceless Debt: We could never pay back the debt on our own for our sins. Some sin can cost us our very lives, “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This is why God the Father sent his beloved Son to ransom us. Christ literally paid the price for our sins with his own blood: “...you do not belong to yourself. You have been purchased at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). None of us are exempt from the need for God’s mercy: “...all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood” (Romans 3:23-25). How cognizant are we of the price Christ paid for our sinfulness?

    2. Justice and Mercy: Because God is love, the Justice we deserve is overcome by his mercy. Pope Francis said, “Justice and mercy in God are one thing. Mercy is just, and Justice is merciful.” There at the cross, justice and mercy met in the person and sacrifice of Christ. Jesus endured the punishment we deserve and paid every ounce of the penalties we deserve to pay. Because we all have sinned, we have therefore received the gift of God’s mercy; we are called to act accordingly by being merciful and compassionate, like God (see Psalms 103).

    3. Choose to Forgive: When we forgive others, even and especially when they cannot make amends for how they have hurt us, we are acting in imitation of Christ: “[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). We must choose to forgive whoever has wronged us. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is an act of the will. What happens when we do not choose to forgive? We run the risk that our own sins will be held against us. Our first reading for Mass today considers this point: “Forgive your neighbor the wrong done to you; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Does anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Can one refuse mercy to a sinner like oneself, yet seek pardon for one’s own sins?” (Sirach 28:2-4).

    Conversing with Christ: Dear Jesus, thank you for paying the price for my sins with your own precious body and blood. Help me to remember that I belong to you, and to live with gratitude for that fact. Help me to choose to forgive others, as you have forgiven me.

    Resolution: Lord, today, by your grace, I will choose to forgive someone for a wrong they have done to me. I will pray and ask God to help me to forgive that person fully and with my whole heart.

    For Further Reflection: Read St. Thomas Aquinas’s writing on justice and mercy here: Summa Theologiae I, q. 21. Or, read all of Psalm 103, meditating on God’s kindness, mercy, and compassion.


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