Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, 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 slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
We all are familiar with today’s Gospel reading and quickly identify its theme being “forgiveness”. But how this familiar and well known subject is so hard to practice? It is difficult because we really don’t want to forgive those who had hurt us despite that we say we did. Such behaviour is not congruent with our faith. It is hard for us because it involves with our ego. When our ego is involved, it is difficult for us to be indifferent. This is what St. Ignatius of Loyola called “inordinate affection”.
The reading begins with Peter’s question: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” What Peter wants to know is not about how many times that one should forgive the one who hurt him. He is talking about how we should deal with the situation described in Luke 17:4, “And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.”
Is the situation in Luke 17:4 also familiar to us? It is not hard to imagine that we all have such experience with our family, colleagues, friends, church, community, etc.. That is why Peter feels so frustrated and comes to Jesus for answer. What he hopes for is a figure from Jesus so that he could follow, taking a medicine so many time a day.
However, Jesus does not hand out any prescription to Peter but tells a parable. This parable is not only for Peter, it is for all of us because we are so hard to forgive. Every time when Jesus’ teaches in parable, he invites us not only to think but also to feel. Where we can get the feeling from? It is from our experiences. Our experiences are part of our history. That means we had once gone through such and such situation before. It leaves a mark on me and is part of me now.
The first part of Jesus’ parable is a king who wishes to settle accounts with his slaves. Note, the initiative of the forgiveness comes from the king not the slaves. So, the question to us is whether we would like to settle the account or not? If we don’t wish to settle the account, we can never forgive. Then the king is so moved and compassionate about the situations of the slave, who pleas before him. So the next step of forgiveness is compassion. Do we have the compassion like the king in the parable to those who hurt us but plea to us for forgiveness? If we don’t have the compassion, we cannot forgive because without compassion we cannot feel or imagine the condition of those who had hurt us.
Forgiveness is very powerful if we read carefully what Jesus tells about how the king forgives his slave. Jesus says. “And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” It is ‘out of pity” that the king forgives the slave. Only those who has the power like a king can be “out of pity” to the wrong doers and can pardon them.
Having thought and felt about the compassion of the king in the first part of the parable, what do we think and feel about the pardoned slave in the second part of the parable? In a society stresses retributive punishment, it sounds correct. How would we think and feel is we look at it through the lenses of reconciliation?
In retributive punishment, we will land ourselves in the never-ending bondage of torture. But in reconciliation, we find mercy and compassion so that we can be free to love and forgive others.
Jesus put the choices before us in his parable. It is up to us to make the choice, retributive punishment or reconciliation. Pray God grant me the grace to make the right choice of forgiveness. Amen.