Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2023

Forgiveness is central to the Christian faith; it is essential for peace in the hearts of individuals, among families and nations. Without forgiveness the reality of having the mind of Christ is impossible, indeed inner peace is an impossibility and anger and revenge becomes the order of the day. Despite its centrality to our faith, we Christians find it difficult to forgive. Peter’s generous offer in today’s gospel to forgive at least seven times may even seemed a bit excessive to many Christians and yet Jesus challenges Peter to embrace the real meaning of forgiveness, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Forgiveness is not defined by a single act, but it is a way of acting, a way of living, a way of loving, it is the way of Christ. 

The fact is that Jesus wants us not to put a limit on forgiveness but to forgive early and often. As Christians we have no other choice. On the surface the words of Jesus in today’s gospel seem to contradict his words in last week’s gospel about the brother in the church who commits a wrong and refuses to accept correction and reform his life. If he persists in his wrongdoing, he is not to be forgiven indefinitely. On the contrary, he is to be excluded from the community’s life. How are we to bring together this advice and Jesus’ urging to forgive “seventy-seven times”?

Today’s parable is about a man who was forgiven much but in turn his heart was never converted because he could not even forgive a little.  He was given a similar punishment to his fellow servant whom he refused to forgive. And his time in prison would have been much longer because of the large debt he owned. This parable and the words of Jesus harkens us back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer we pray at every Eucharist. We say, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” Further commenting on these words, Matthew has Jesus say, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” (Matthew 6: 12,14-15).

To come to a deeper understanding of forgiveness we must first realized the lessons in the parable. First that it is in our best interest never to withhold forgiveness from those God has forgiven, knowing full well the mercy of God towards sinners. And secondly, we must understand that divine patience is not infinite! God, as Jesus tells us to do, is ready to forgive 77 times. And, when it comes to the forgiveness of our own sins, we take this for granted.  At the same time, there is a limit to the extent of God’s forgiveness in the sense that it is conditional. That condition is determined first, by our readiness to respond to his forgiveness through our repentance and conversion, and second, by our willingness to imitate him in practicing forgiveness of those we feel have offended or hurt us.

In the final analysis Almighty God cannot fully forgive the person who pardoned is offered and yet refuses it. Because forgiveness also entails reconciliation, and where there is no reconciliation or a chance to be reconcile forgiveness cannot be achieved in its fullness. The act of forgiveness is not accomplished in the words “I forgive” we must work towards reconciliation by changing the other person’s heart. Yet the fact is that to be reconciled is a personal decision by everyone.  And so according to the mind of Christ forgiveness is more than saying words, it is a form of loving and caring. The challenge is to move towards an understanding of what makes a person angry or hateful. We too must become more secure in the knowledge that we are loved by God and forgiven by him. When we truly believe this then forgiving 77 times would seem like the only reasonable thing to do. That is to forgive early and often. 

In this light then we must always be ready to forgive and at the same time always oppose sin and evil. God and the Church can forgive the repentant sinner, but they cannot condone unrepented behavior that is a source of real evil and suffering. God cannot be reconciled with the sinner who chooses to stay in sin, nor can the Christian community fully incorporate a member who refuses reconciliation and healing of behavior that offends against truth and love. It takes two to tango and to effect a reconciliation.

With God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and with the individual Christian, forgiveness is infinitely available but only where a mutual healing of wounds is sought, only where there is a desire to have that change of mind and behavior which puts an end to sinful behavior. And so let us strive to forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ Jesus our Lord. 


For comments and suggestions: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Web Team
Updated: September 17, 2023

Copyright 2015. Joomla 2.5 templates free.