Reflections 17th September 2017

A Reflection for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mt: 18:21-35 (

In Matthew's Gospel, the word Forgive appears no fewer than 46 times, meaning ‘to pardon’ on 17 of those occasions.  If the commandment is 'love one another', then to forgive is an essential part of this. Chapter 18 features Matthew's ‘gold medal’ parable, one which is unique to his Gospel.  The teaching of Jesus in this story is echoing the wisdom of Ben Sirach,

Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray: does anyone harbour anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? 

(28:2-3; our first reading today).

The teaching to forgive is continually through this Gospel but I mention 5 moments.

I        The Lord's Prayer. Jesus says But if you do not forgive people their offences, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you. (6: 12-15).

II      In Chapter 9, Jesus says to the cripple "Your sins are forgiven". This causes consternation.

III    A somewhat difficult passage, Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

IV   Chapter 18 where we have today's Gospel reading. It is all important.  Matthew was probably at Antioch with a strong Jewish/Christian community and some Gentiles. They had differences and serious problems. Some were looking back and maybe going back to Moses and the Law; the Law that the Jews had revered for hundreds of years. Some were liberal and saw Jesus as the new Moses and the new law. They had deep divisions. Matthew could see that the only way to build a genuine Christian community is to forgive seventy times seven every day. And so Jesus tells the story of the unforgiving servant.

V         The words we use at Mass for the consecration of the chalice come from Matthew's Gospel,

For this is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (26:28).

But notice that the angel says to Joseph, Joseph son of David do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

So, from beginning to end the Gospel of Matthew is about forgiveness.

Listening to people, I have sometimes wondered whether or not refusing to forgive is a very common sin. Talking to people perhaps before a penitential service I have sometimes said that the phrase "forgive and forget" is a casual and maybe an incorrect phrase.  To forgive is a decision commitment; something we reflect on and decide to do with God's help: we can leave our feelings out of it. But to forget, we are unable or we cannot control; it is a psychological problem.  People who say that they cannot forgive may really be saying that theycannot forget. Some people have come to me later and said that I am right. 

The greatest thing a person can do is to forgive.  Granted the commandment is love; but one who refuses to forgive is refusing to love.

Father, forgive us as we forgive those who offend us, seventy times seven daily.

Tom McDonald C.S.Sp. – Fr. Tom spent most of his missionary life in Kenya. He has lectured in Anthropology.  He is currently Chaplain at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire.