Seventy-Seven Times

09-17-2017Pastoral ReflectionsFather Brian Manning

Our first reading this weekend comes from the Old Testament section called the "Wisdom Literature." This section of the sacred scripture attempts to deal with the questions of life: our meaning, our existence, our purpose and our destiny. Many of the sacred books of this section reflect upon stories or culture or other literature and attempt to give at least some of the questions and answers of life. Oftentimes the questions are limited and thus the answers are ever more limited. No one really knows all the questions of life, who to ask them, what order to answer them in and really what to say or do in response. True human wisdom is very limited and, in fact, very modest in scope. Always be cautious and beware of people who have answers to everything in proper order and completeness. This person is really a "classic fool," someone who does not know they do not know.

Thus we come to understand that the reading from Sirach this week provides a perfect foundation for the Gospel of today. Centuries before Jesus preached the parable of the unforgiving servant, the son (ben) of Sirach wrote this book of great wisdom to help the people of his day live in harmony with God's creation. This author gave clear warning to people to let go of their anger. You can almost see them grab hold tightly as though it were a priceless diamond. He tells them and everyone that our own sins will be forgiven, if we forgive others. Simply put: we must show mercy if we are to receive it.

Jesus clearly illustrates this wisdom in the Gospel passage when Peter asks how often we need to forgive someone who has hurt us. Bear in mind the king forgave the enormous debt of his servant, but the servant demanded payment and punishment when a fellow slave could not pay what he owed.

Have you ever paid off a large debt? Perhaps it was a car, a college loan, or your mortgage? Does it not feel great to do so after all those years and payments? Imagine, however, one step further. By some alignment of the sun, the moon and the stars, all the money you needed appeared unexpectedly. The weight of the world was lifted off of you as you crawled out from underneath the burden of debt. Do you find how strange and perturbing it is that the servant's response to his fellow slave was one of greed and anger just after something so wonderful had happened? Do you speculate if something else was troubling the servant than just his debt to the king?

When we ask God to forgive our sins, we know we are forgiven. Our deep belief is that Jesus died for just that purpose. In the story God, then, is the great king who forgave his servant (both you and me). The other great question is what happens when our peers come forward and ask for our forgiveness? Is it possible that our own greatest sin is our inability to forgive one person in our own lives? Sadly, for many people this is true.

Jesus told Peter that we must forgive seventy-seven times. It was never intended that we keep a spread sheet, but the main idea is that we forgive over and over. This should give us some practice at being humble and gracious. However, when we ask someone for forgiveness, we must be willing to try to correct our wrongdoing. We must be willing to change something of ourselves in order not to repeat the hurt. None of this is easy, but allof this is necessary is we are to be followers of Jesus Christ.