The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (18:23-35)
When I hear these gospel passages I’m constantly in awe of God’s love and provision for His people. I am in awe of the way that the Lord Jesus Christ leaves nothing to chance in our spiritual life especially in His teachings. He teaches us and makes it clear that what He is teaching us is a glimpse, a foretaste, a preview of something heavenly. What would we give to know what heaven is like? What would we pay to have a small glimpse into the kingdom? Yet here laid right before our feet is the gospel, the good news of the victory of God. In the course of sharing this good news with us, His people, the Lord gives us insight into the heavenly realm and what is required of us in order that we might be with Him in this reality.
Today the Lord tells us that “the kingdom may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” It is a familiar story. One servant owed lots of money to his master and he begged for mercy and the king took pity on him. He had mercy on him and forgave the debt completely. And as this servant who was forgiven was on his way back to his own home, he came across one of his own servants who owed him a very small, trivial amount of money. And how did he respond? He became terribly aggressive and demanding with his servant. He showed him no mercy but only cruelty and anger. He threw him into prison until the debt was satisfied.
But what does this story have to do with us? How does this relate to us and to the kingdom of heaven? Our Lord Jesus tells us that the king is a symbol of God. We each owe a great debt to God. It is a debt that you could never repay even if you had all of the money in the world. In fact we know that our debts with God were forgiven and completely wiped away. But which debts am I speaking of? The debt caused by our sins. Humanity carried a great spiritual debt. We were imprisoned and enslaved by our sins. We were held in bondage by death. We had no way out. Yet we were found by Christ the merciful lover of mankind. He paid the ransom for us with His own life, His own blood. He freed us and He forgave us.
Many of you have experienced a deep sense of the generous mercy of God’s forgiveness in your own lives. You have had moments when your own sins weighed heavily, tangibly on you. Some of you experience it quite often through the sacrament of confession. All of this is given freely as a sign of God’s love through His Son Jesus. The Lord in His mercy forgave us and then in the greatest scandal of all, He raised us up to Him. He made us who are His creation and were formed from the dust of the earth to be higher than the angels.
So the Lord freely, generously and completely poured out all of this forgiveness for us. As we acknowledge this fact we are then forced to look in the mirror and to ask ourselves if we have shown a similar level of mercy and forgiveness on all of the people in our lives. Fr. Alexander Schmemann once wrote, To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful world. (Great Lent, p 28)
Some of the people in our lives have done us wrong. Spouses, parents, children, friends, co-workers, members of our church family. Humanly speaking it is quite possible to end up in situations where you hurt others knowingly or unknowingly or where they hurt you knowingly or unknowingly. The pain can be real when others do us wrong, this is especially true when they are people who might be close to us.
How do we respond in our own lives? How do we respond in our hearts? Do we harbor lots of ill will towards the people who have hurt us? It feels natural to do so, but God is calling us to something higher, to be like Him, to love with supernatural love. Whatever it is that others have done to us, no matter how awful it may be, we are called, as children of God to be more. We are called to forgive because Christ has demonstrated this for each of us. We shouldn’t put people in the prison of our angry and resentful hearts, because Christ has completely freed each of us. We are called to open the kingdom to the world around us.
Even when others have hurt us or done us wrong, we have the ability to pray for them and to ask God to help them and bless them. In our day that might be seen as weakness but the reality is that what seems to be our weakness is transformed into our strength. This is a biblical principle that applies first and foremost to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross makes one appear helpless, weak and insufficient. It makes one appear cursed and punished and finally dead. Yet, in the case of our Lord, He turned the cross on it’s head to make it the ultimate sign of strength and victory and life.
How important is it that we learn to forgive others? It is everything. Our daily prayer to God the Father, which was taught to us by His only begotten son Jesus reminds us of this each time we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” The sign of our acceptance and understanding of what God has done for us is found in our ability to freely forgive those who have hurt us. St. Mark the Ascetic writes, “The sign of sincere love is to forgive wrongs done to us. It was with such love that the Lord loved the world.”