Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A


Donald F. Reilly, O.S.A.
Malvern Preparatory School
Malvern, Pennsylvania

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

You and I were spiritually weaned on the words of the Our Father : “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We rarely, if ever, use the word “trespass” in conversation. It doesn’t trip off the tongue easily. It conjures up signs on fences surrounding vacant lots, commercial property, and dangerous high voltage equipment. It’s always in bold red lettering: “Do not trespass!” It certainly captures the meaning of the word “sin” as transgression and missing the mark, but it also has the nuance of “intrusion” or violating the property of another.

In our readings today, particularly the gospel, forgiveness seems to be the result of extending mercy toward another. It isn’t so much “I’m okay because you asked me to forgive you” as it is “I have compassion and extend mercy to you because I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the situation.” St. Augustine defines sin as “caved in” around the ego and its narrow concerns. I like Augustine’s definition of sin because it gets to the heart of the matter, namely, to be able to forgive others is a gift to ourselves! When we forgive we free ourselves. When we forgive others and forgive ourselves we shift into a newly created space that shines with compassion and mercy. We restore the “caved in” part of our life.

God has shown us such a magnitude of mercy that we cannot but show mercy to others. Jesus also says in Luke 6, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Yet this is not what we encounter from the forgiven slave in this parable. A denarius is only a few cents, a day’s wage of a laborer. There are only 6,000 denarii to a talent. The second debit is only 1/6000 of the first debt. The debt here was not insignificant, but compared to the first it is so minimal. The man was greedy and almost unbelievably oblivious to the implications of his own forgiveness that he just received. When the fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, it should have reminded him of his recent circumstances, but still he was unmoved.

Jesus is trying to make the point here that the servant who owed much did not see the weight of the debt he had against the king. Those of us who fail to see how much we have been forgiven, will also fail to extend forgiveness to others. He was forgiven much and the grace he received should have easily led him to extend forgiveness to his fellow servant.

This teaching of Jesus is a challenge to us. But it is central to the Christian life. Most of us are slow to forgive and even slower to forget. Why? Three reasons come to mind:

1. Our expectations of others, particularly those who are fellow believers.

2. We have a poor perspective of how much we’ve been forgiven.

3. We fear being taken advantage of or looking weak.

God’s grace can help us work through our reticence and stubbornness. It is what God does best in and through us.