TUESDAY HOMILY: The Lavishness of God's Mercy and Ours
Jesus teaches us today how rich in mercy God has been toward us and how merciful we are called to be in return.
In today's Gospel, St. Peter asks Jesus, "If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?" He volunteers a figure astronomical by our standards today. "Seven times?," he says, which would be our equivalent of giving someone an eighth chance.
Jesus, taking advantage of the symbolic significance of the number seven in Hebrew, which symbolizes perfection, responds that Peter must forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. If taken literally he would have to give someone a "seventy-eighth chance." But in Hebrew, the expression Jesus uses means "infinitely." He says Peter must forgive every time a brother or sister wrongs him.
And what Jesus says to Peter, he also says to us. We, too, must never refuse forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us - even and especially those who have really wounded us deeply. We must forgive fathers and mothers who have hurt us when we were younger, husbands and wives who have betrayed us, friends who have deceived us, priests or nuns who have scandalized us, assailants who have attacked us, and terrorists who have mercilessly killed those closest to us.
Jesus tells us why we must do this by means of the parable he gives us, which I've always found among his most powerful. He mentions two people who need to have their debts cancelled. The first owes 10,000 talents. A talent was 6,000 days wages. Therefore, this person owed 60 million days of work - something that would take him 164,000 years to pay off. If we want to quantify it in today's money and just assumed the person made $12.50 an hour or $100/day, he would owe the equivalent of 6 billion dollars.
Knowing that he and his whole family would be thrown into prison, he went in to the Master and begged, ridiculously, time to pay back the unpayable sum, as if he would live to be 165,000 years old and slowly become a multi-billionaire! The Master, moved with compassion, cancelled the debt in its entirety. The debtor had essentially received his life back.
But he went out and met a man who owed him 100 denarii, or 100 days wages. Again, if a person was making $100 a day, this would be the equivalent of $10,000, which could be paid off in just over three months. But when he fell to his knees and begged for time to repay the debt - just as the first debtor had done - the one who had been forgiven the $6 billion had no mercy at all, even though the $10,000 he had lent had doubtless come from the billions he had himself borrowed. His lack of compassion cost him everything: when the servants of the billionaire Master told their boss, he revoked his mercy and threw the one who owed him into prison until he would pay back every last penny, which, because of the amount owed, was an impossible task.
What's the relevance for us in the Year of Faith? We owe God far more than $6 billion. We're always debtors, not creditors, in the forgiveness department. God the Father did not write off our debt, but sent his Son to pay for the debt with his own body and blood on the Cross. Our sins - even every single venial sin - have incurred an infinite debt that Christ needed to pay. Since we have received his forgiveness in baptism and in the sacrament of reconciliation, we are called to go out likewise and forgive others their much smaller debts to us, because nothing anyone could do to us - even if he or she were to torture us or kill those closest to us - amounts to what we've done to the Son of God made man through our sins.
This is a very important point for us to get. Very often we can think our sins are light matter. "So I say a few swears," we can say to ourselves. "That's not a big deal." We can have very little compunction if we miss Mass on a Sunday or fail to be charitable, or consent to some impure thoughts, or be dishonest on our taxes. But every sin we've committed - even being impatient with others - makes us murderers of the Son of God, because Jesus had to die to forgive even our least venial sin.
This is a hard truth to bear, and I know there will be some reader of this article who will think that I must be exaggerating. I'm not. That's how horrible our sins are. Our sins led to Jesus' brutal torture and murder.
If we stopped there, it would be hard for us not to feel infinitely miserable. But God loved us so much that he counted it a ...
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