September 17, 2017
XXIV Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
The parable that we hear today concludes the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus’ discourse about the relationships within the Church community is reported.
We can distinguish two parts: first, we have the question by Peter about the number of times when we must forgive (Mt 18:21), and Jesus’ answer, which is articulated in the so-called “unscrupulous servant” parable (Mt 18:22-34), and concludes with the final sentence on the limit given by man to the Father’s forgiveness (Mt 18:35).
Peter’s question, in its turn, arises from Jesus’ previous sayings on the subject of forgiveness: the community knows the problem of sin, of division, of evil, and Jesus has given a way to go so that the brothers may help one another to get out of death.
Faced with this perspective, Peter’s reaction is so human, so reasonable: it’s good to forgive, it’s good to pardon often and repeatedly, but at a certain point there must be a limit. What point? Until what point must one go in loving? Who gives us the measure?
And Jesus answers.
First of all, in the parable, there are paradoxical elements. The first concerns the amount of servant’s debt to his master-king: ten thousand talents; whose value is unimaginable, equal to a sum of money that, in those times in Palestine, was not even in circulation.
But such was the servant’s debt.
The second is the reaction of the master who at once, without permitting too much pleading, forgives the entire debt. He could have forgiven a part of it, and demand the rest. He could have allowed more time, and would still be a good master, a patient master. But no, he forgives everything, and immediately.
To Peter’s question on what is the measure of forgiveness to which we are called, Jesus answers speaking of the Father’s love, and of His measure of forgiveness. Man, every person, has a huge debt to Him that he could never fulfill: not only does he owe Him his own life, which is priceless, but he also owes salvation to a death that already had him in its jaws. And our salvation is, for the Father, worth the very life of the Son.
But there is a third unexpected and absurd note, this time in the negative, and it’s that of the servant who, once his master has gone, finds himself unable to forgive his brother an infinitely smaller debt than that which was forgiven him.
How is it possible?
It would seem impossible, instead it is what we ourselves do each time that we do not forgive our brother, whenever forgiving seems too much to us. We are like that servant, unable to share the immense gift that he has received, as if it were a right, and not a free gift.
Those who have no awareness of the gift they have received, those who do not nourish the memory of it by gratitude and prayer, are exposed to the peril of the servant, who doesn’t know that, of necessity, he has to forgive.
If he does not do so, and here is the fourth surprise of the parable, he somehow loses the gift he received because he closes himself to the possibility of enjoying it, of living this logic. We are called to forgive always because our every forgiveness is nothing compared to the mercy that has been given to us. Only a limitless pardon is true forgiveness: a limited pardon is still “only” human justice, which does not look anything like God’s action.
Humans, as Peter’s question already pointed out, tend to set limits, to define a reasonable measure. God, on the contrary, puts no limit, and the only limit to His forgiveness is placed by us, and not by Him.
The final sentence of today’s passage, which very much recalls the request on forgiveness of the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:12,14-15), reflects on this mystery: The Father will not forgive anyone who does not forgive his brother.
But it is true that there is a forgiveness of the Father that comes first of all, that pardons everything, to everyone, immediately. Only those who have awareness and enter into this same logic of gift allow the Lord’s grace to carry out all the way His creating work, to make us resurrected people who bring into everyday life the gift they have received.
So, the received forgiveness has really transformed existence.