A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 42)
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – September 11, 2005
“The Duty of Christian Forgiveness”
Sir 27:30-28:9 // Rom 14:7-9 // Mt 18:21-35
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
While the Gospel reading of last Sunday (Mt 18:15-20) presented the duty of Christian correction, today’s Gospel reading explicates the duty of Christian forgiveness. The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington remarks: “Having dealt with the extreme case of the totally incorrigible member and the extreme punishment of excommunication, the discourse turns to the more ordinary experience of forgiveness and reconciliation in the community. How many times should such a person be forgiven? Once again Peter serves as the spokesman for the group and gives what he imagines to be a very generous answer to his own question. Seven times (v. 21). Jesus corrects Peter and answers it. Seventy-seven times. The new number is not to be taken literally. The point is that Christians have no right to place any limit on forgiveness. Why Christians may not set limits to forgiveness is illustrated by the parable of the merciless steward (vv. 23-25). This parable puts in story form the second “we-petition” of the Lord’s Prayer: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Mt 6:12). In other words, God’s willingness to forgive us depends on our willingness to forgive others (cf. Mt 6:14-15) … The story warns us that forgiveness granted to us by God will be revoked unless we are willing to forgive others (v. 35). The unforgiving are excluded from God’s mercy. Those who work to receive God’s mercy must show mercy toward others.”
The ability to forgive others results from our personal response and wholehearted reception of God’s forgiving love. Eugene Maly explains: “God tells us to forgive. The reason for this attitude is that God’s nature is a forgiving one, and anyone who belongs to God must imitate his attitude … It is true that we do find in the Bible references to God’s anger and determination to perish. But in all these cases, it is spoken of those who, in the end, reject God’s forgiveness. Divine forgiveness flows from a creating and unmerited love and a new creation results. If that creating love is rejected, it is clear that the chaos of sin remains. Punishment is the necessary result. But as long as life remains, the forgiving hand of God is outstretched to all. Vengeance is final only when the refusal of forgiving love is final. How do we know that we have accepted God’s forgiving love? Only when we can forgive others.”
The parable of the unforgiving steward continues to challenge us today. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, delineate the relevance and fresh impact of this forceful parable for us: “We are no longer speaking of fellow servants but of brothers and sisters. We are no longer asked to pardon indefinitely, not seven times but seventy-seven times, but from the heart. The parable is addressed, therefore, to the Christian community where all are brothers and sisters. Each one of us has received, and continues to receive all the time, the mercy of the Father in heaven, who has remitted the un-payable debt of sin. Our conduct toward our brothers and sisters who have offended us follows from the conduct of God toward us. To act otherwise is to incur rejection from the Father. The pardon must be given from the heart, like the pardon of God, who is not content to receive lip service from a people whose heart is far from him.”
by Mario S. Estrella
(Member: Religious Congregation, Opifices Christi, Philippines)
When I was working as one of the training officers of the different training programs of the Department of Education, I had made a decision that was detrimental to the mandate of the Department to provide continuous service to teachers and principals. My immediate superior called it to my attention when he discovered my irresponsibility and incompetence. I thought I would be reprimanded and incriminated for negligence and my conduct, which was unbecoming to a government employee.
The superior asked me if I was guilty of the offense and I replied affirmatively. He surprised me when he asked, “If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?”
I replied, “I am sorry, sir. I have learned my lesson and you surely can trust me again.”
He must have detected the sincerity of my repentance. “I am not going to press charges anymore and you can continue in your present responsibility,” he said.
He told me then that he had once succumbed to the same situation, but he was given mercy and was asked to learn from it. His position now in the Department can attest how far he has gone because of the opportunity accorded to him.
Truly, according to Steve Goodlier, those who forgive best are those who are forgiven.
The story is centered on the fruit of forgiveness. Forgiveness multiplies when freely given to the offender. Whether we like it or not, something good may come out from the experience and could probably change the person for the better.
There is another way of looking at why Jesus asked us to forgive seventy-seven times. The number of times we exonerate is most likely equivalent to those who will have a change of heart for the better. The number of recipients who have been rehabilitated as a result of forgiveness is already a great contribution to the continuing proclamation of the Kingdom of God. If the recipients will do the same to their offenders, forgiveness multiplies until it reaches the core number that will make the world a better place to live in.
But the world where we live is far different from the world that is supposed to be the replica of the Kingdom of God. If you go around and see, people are full of hatred, vengeance, jealousy and pride. Many people are preoccupied with living a very convenient life to the detriment of other people who are violated and victims of injustices, and are getting poorer and poorer. Many are living in an instant world where they have an easy, but very complicated life. The values of introspection and contrition have become interferences to success, rather than a motivation for building a closer relationship with God. This is why people are unmindful of seeking forgiveness from the people they have offended.
This is the problem of our time. People simply ignore it because of pride, hatred, vengeance, and sometimes, because they lack the time to do it. Very few people apologize for their offenses. If there are sinners who confess repentance, people doubt the sincerity of their remorse. As I have been emphasizing, the fruit of forgiveness is the rehabilitation of the repentant and the resolve to become a better person. The goodness resulting from the experience of forgiveness would not be possible unless forgiveness is asked and granted to somebody. How could we build a better world if people do not cooperate by being good?
The bigger task for us is how to convince the unrepentant to ask forgiveness. We do not need to look farther for we can start in our family, community, school and offices. In this, we can start asking ourselves when was the last time we asked for forgiveness and granted it to those who have asked for it.
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Do we ever forgive? Do we set limits and conditions on Christian forgiveness?
B. Do we imitate God in his willingness to forgive? Do we respond positively and fully to God’s healing and forgiving love?
C. In our daily life, do we act like the merciless and unforgiving steward? If so, what do we do about it?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Commission Francophone Cistercienne, Tropaires des dimanches, 112)
Leader: No other debt than love, no other truth …
No love greater than forgiveness,
no other source whence life is reborn.
Assembly: Happy those who forgive:
they welcome your forgiveness, Lord.
Leader: Love is known by this:
the Son of God has given his life for you.
The Lord has forgiven you,
do the same in your turn.
Love, love in truth, you will know God’s peace.
Assembly: Happy those who forgive:
they welcome your forgiveness, Lord.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times? … I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:21-22)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray for those who have truly been offended and wronged that they may have the grace to forgive. Pray for those who have direly offended others that they may truly seek forgiveness. Seek to extend God’s forgiving love to those who have wronged you. In a spirit of contrition, beg forgiveness from the people you have wronged that you may truly experience God’s forgiving and healing love.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may understand and appreciate more deeply the duty and the meaning of Christian forgiveness and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 42): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323