24th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A

Posted on septiembre 15, 2023 View all Gospel Reflection

We hear in our Gospel, we have to forgive, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

One guy responded, “Great, not only do I have to forgive my brother, now I have to do math.”

Jesus adds: Forgive from your heart.

Without forgiveness, the weight of the debt over time means the residual intensified anger is no longer in proportion to the wrong done (murder, abuse or grave slander) once a judge finally assigns the sentence for crimes. In all cases, the final judge will be the Lord, and no injustice whatsoever eludes God’s omniscience as we hear in our Gospel today about paying back the whole debt.1

St. Thomas Aquinas offers a rich insight into forgiveness: Anger is a complex emotion. Along with the desire and hope for vengeance, anger is constituted by sorrow; lamenting a present evil. Grief and lamentation actually serve to drain anger’s power. Recognition of sorrow as causally precedent to anger also offers us a pathway to kindness, even towards those who crushed us. “Hurt people, hurt people,” as the saying goes. Even in the cases where one does not know an offender’s backstory, the Lord does. Those who lash out to injure us typically do so from their own (often hidden) brokenness. Pray for the person you resent to help free you by moving you to more neutral territory.

To illustrate, one day in a small country church, an altar boy accidently dropped the communion wine. The officiating priest yelled at him and said, “Leave, and don’t come back!” That boy became General Tito, the brutal communist dictator who ruled the people of the former Yugoslavia for decades with an iron fist.

Another story. In a big city cathedral, another altar boy dropped the communion wine. His bishop, who was the officiant at Mass, turned to him and whispered reassuringly, “It is OK, someday you will be a great priest.” That boy became Venerable Fulton Sheen, who had inspirational prime time shows on television that touched the hearts of millions from 1962 to 1968.

Like Christ from the cross, forgiveness from the heart is an act of mercy; a virtuous activity, and redemptive suffering for the salvation of our offender. Because forgiveness requires the stabilization of virtue, we start small and build slowly, 2  but build we must: Unless you forgive, God will not forgive you. That is the point of our parable today: the huge remission of debt created an obligation for him to act with similar mercy. Instead he chose strict, immediate justice which reverted back to him.

Don’t take the blame of the other person onto yourself. This can be a defense mechanism of turning against yourself producing depression. Depression can also happen by not forgiving yourself. Aquinas reminds us that we stand in a metaphorical relationship with our younger selves as we remember things we have done in the past. The same way we forgive others can unfold within, where we actually view the “enemy” of our younger selves.3  

Humility is associated with a realistic assessment of one’s fallibility, openness to learn and empathetic other-orientation, hence it is likely to increase self-forgiveness directly. Research has found a positive relationship between trait humility and self-forgiveness.4  Humility implies less inflated views of the self, an acceptance that one may not (yet) have perfect (saintly) moral agency, which is likely to result in less self-condemnation.

The New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati has “70 x 7” painted over the main doorway. New mail carriers thought it was the address! It was our address in a way. To eternal life by forgiving like Christ.

1.     Father John Burns, Forgiveness and Healing, The Priest, Our Sunday Visitor, Feb 2023

2,3. Ibid.

4. Neal Krause, University of Michigan (2015)