Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This past Friday, we remembered the terrible terrorist attack of 9/11 where over 3000 people were killed. Most of us remember what we were doing that day when we heard about this tragedy. Nineteen years later, sites have been repaired or rebuilt and monuments created, and still very much in our memory. Many people come to these sites to pay tribute to the great loss. But I wonder… have we truly forgiven those who committed that terrible evil that day? Or what about this: If we had a family member who were among the dead, would we be able to forgive?
In last week’s gospel, Jesus gave his disciples a method for the hard work of healing relationships with mercy and love. Today’s gospel raises the question about the limits of that mercy and forgiveness. Now, after hearing Jesus’ teaching, Peter was probably thinking that he’s doing pretty good – that, he’s being pretty generous when he asks how often he should forgive his brother or sister who sins against him – as many as seven times? But I’d bet that Peter was very surprised to hear Jesus say, Not 7 times, but 77 times!
With that answer, Jesus shows that, the depth of God’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness are beyond measure. And he backs up this statement with a parable or story of God’s unlimited mercy and compassion. And parables, as we know, are meant to open our minds and hearts to God, so that God can heal our brokenness then, in turn we can share that healing with others, promoting peace and reconciliation instead of resentment and hatred.
Over and over again, in all sorts of ways, Jesus teaches that, at the very heart of the Gospel, is compassion, and the practice of mercy and forgiveness. Not just the mercy of God towards us, but our mercy, our compassion towards others. And if our heart is not moved by the pain of the other… by the face of the other… how can we claim to have experienced the very mercy of God we say we believe in?
Remember, each time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to, forgive us our trespasses (sin) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us. And Pope Francis often reminds us that the heart of the gospel is mercy – “a revolution of tenderness,” as he calls it – “a revolution of tenderness.” That’s how God overturns what has become the self-centred ways of this world – with a tenderized… a transformed heart – a heart of mercy. Beautiful!
So just how does Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving slave illustrate his teaching? Well, first of all, the king forgives his debt – a huge debt of 10,000 talents – a debt that, in the ancient world would have been equivalent to something like 200,000 years of wages. It’s hard to even comprehend the level of debt this slave incurred. So this first part of the parable clearly shows the generosity – the unlimited compassion and mercy of God.
You would think that, after an experiencing forgiveness and mercy to that degree that, this unforgiving slave should have been transformed by the experience, he would have forgiven the measly debt a fellow slave owed him. But he wasn’t. He didn’t forgive his fellow slave’s debt.
This tells us that this slave wasn’t changed by his experience of mercy and should make us think: Has my heart been softened – tenderized, as Pope Francis put it – by my own experience of the depth of God’s merciful love for me? And how do I express this experience in the tenderness, the merciful presence, and my love for others – to my family, my spouse, work mates, fellow parishioners – even strangers – the poor and broken? May each of our hearts be so moved by the tenderness of God toward us, that, we, in turn, will become revolutionaries of that tenderness towards others. Amen.