Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

James D. McBurney, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Sir 27:30–28:7
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Rom 14:7-9
Mt 18:21-35

In recent years, I have been engaged in retreat ministry. This ministry has led me to offer retreats for lay men and women as well as religious communities of women and men. A recurring theme I often speak about on these retreats is that of embracing the call to ongoing conversion of heart. This means recognizing the need for some change of mind, heart, or attitude within oneself. A central point of this talk is that there can be no real conversion of heart without forgiveness.

The Gospel from both last Sunday and today speak to us about the importance of forgiveness. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus offered a process for being reconciled with a brother or sister who sins against us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus responds to Peter’s question about how often we must forgive a brother or sister who sins against us by telling the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Peter thought he was being generous in suggesting that we forgive someone as many as seven times! Jesus responds with seventy-seven times as a way to illustrate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness we are called to extend to one another. We are called to forgive as God has forgiven us, unconditionally and without limit.

Consider the unforgiving servant. His entire debt was wiped out. There was nothing hanging over him. In a similar way, God has forgiven every sin we have ever committed or will commit. How great is God’s mercy and forgiveness!

The beginning of the First Reading from Sirach today tells us that “wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” What are some ways we can diffuse wrath and anger? Maybe by stepping away from the situation, taking a walk, turning to prayer, or talking to someone for guidance. Unforgiveness imprisons us and can lead to hardness of heart and violence or inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, forgiveness offered to another brings healing, peace, and inner freedom, which is really God’s deepest desire for each of us.

I think we would all agree that there is much in our world, our country, our cities, and often in our family relationships that needs healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. What do we take away from today’s readings? Who has modeled forgiveness for you? What forgiveness stories have touched your heart? In what way are you being called to extend forgiveness to someone? At this Eucharist today, let us pray for the grace to be instruments of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.