Homily for the twenty-fourth Sunday of the year

Year A  -  Mt. 18:21-35


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Peter came up and said to Jesus, «Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?»  Jesus said to him, «I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.»

"«Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.

"«So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.»"



Homily:


"Peter came up and said to Jesus, «Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?»  Jesus said to him, «I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.»"

The question that Peter asked Jesus comes, in Saint Matthew, right after the Lord's teaching on brotherly correction and unity among Christians.  It is, in short, the continuation of last Sunday's gospel.  Peter's question, concerning the forgiveness of sins, is quite opportune:  it is in fact necessary for all of us to be able to forgive our brother or sister, even before we try to correct him or her, or, what is more, even before we pray to the Father with the community of Christians.

For all brotherly correction must be done in perfect charity, just as no one can pretend to be united to the community if he is not first in perfect unity with God, the very principle of the unity among all Christians.  Also, Peter, who is the one inspired by the Father (cf. Mt. 16:17), does not hesitate, in his fidelity to the Spirit of God, to ask this question about the forgiveness that must be granted to our brothers.  Had not Jesus himself instructed the disciples to pray to the Father in the following manner: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt. 6:12)?

"«Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.»"

At the end of this life, we must all, without exception, give God an account of how we have acted at every instant of our existence.  If God forgives the sins that we have committed, it is now that he does so; but never, absolutely never, does he do so after our death.  After death is when God exercises his justice, not his mercy:  he rewards the just, and punishes the guilty;  he rewards with eternal life those who had asked him for forgiveness during their mortal life;  and punishes with the second death all those who died without having asked for forgiveness for having committed any grave and mortal sin.  After death, one must give an account of what one has done, but now is the time to say with all the disciples of Christ:  "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt. 6:12)  If not, this word of the Lord will be accomplished without fail:  "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (Mt. 18: 35)

"«When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.»"

In this parable, it is clear that justice and mercy come one after the other:  thus it is not, properly speaking, a parable on the last judgement, but rather a parable on the life of the Church of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  We know this to be so:  from the time of the Incarnation of the Word, we have entered into what Saint Paul calls "the fullness of time" (Ga. 4:4);  that is to say, at this very moment, eternity has already, in a certain sense, begun on earth, through the coming of the Kingdom of God.  "Our Father..., thy kingdom come..." (Mt. 6:10)  Besides, didn't Jesus declare to his disciples, speaking of Satan:  "the ruler of this world is judged" (Jn. 16:11)?

"«But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.»"

Our whole life as Christians is summed up in this one sentence:  "should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?"  We forget too often - indeed, we barely succeed in thinking about it even once in our whole life - that God, one day, took pity on us!  Poor us!  We are poor, in fact;  we are to be lamented and pitied if we think we do not need the mercy of God!  This, on the contrary, is the cry of all the saints who show us the way to heaven;  all have cried, and they still cry:  mercy!

The Most Blessed Virgin Mary herself sang, with all creation, the mercies of the Lord:  "Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors, and he remembers his holy covenant." (Lk. 1:72 - cf. Lk. 1:78)  With Mary, let us sing to the Lord of his infinite mercy:  "Magnificat!"