Sunday Sipping: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Sirach 27:30-28:7
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

Revenge films are a guilty pleasure of mine. We all know the general story. Protagonist loses family members or friends due to the twisted actions of depraved men. Protagonist vows vengeance and spends the rest of the movie hunting down the ones responsible. Liberally add a barrage of bullets (or several), a bevy of explosions, and bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, and you end up with something I will definitely enjoy watching!

Why are these movies so appealing? I would say that, among other reasons, these films give off the distinct impression of justice being served, which is very satisfying. The bad guys transgress what is good and they rightly get what they deserve. What’s more just than that? Yet in light of this coming Sunday’s readings, we come to see what this kind of “justice” leads to. From the first reading in the book of Sirach, we are told that “[t]he vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.”

In the Gospel, Jesus vividly shows us the consequences of choosing not to forgive others through a parable. Since the recently forgiven servant did not forgive the debt of his fellow servant, the king angrily tells the unforgiving servant, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, the unforgiving servant is handed over to torturers until he pays back his entire debt to the king. And to drive in this already uncomfortable point further, Jesus emphasizes that the Father will punish us in kind unless we forgive each other from the heart!

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Well, it is! Why? It’s because forgiveness is absolutely crucial to the Christian life! It’s wrong for one who has been forgiven so much by God, to withhold forgiveness over an offense, committed by someone else, that is so small in comparison. It’s worth noting that in the Revised Standard Version translation of the Gospel, the unforgiving servant owed the king 10,000 talents and the servant who was in debt to the unforgiving servant owed him the relatively tiny sum of 100 denarii. To put this in perspective, one denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer back then and one talent was equal to 6,000 denarii. So, the unforgiving servant owed the king for 60 million days of work and the other servant owed the unforgiving servant for a relatively paltry 100 days of work!

God has forgiven us for so much more than we deserve and He continues to pour out mercy upon us. However, being unforgiving prevents us from receiving and being truly transformed by such a wonderful gift. How can you receive a gift if your hands are clenched? As the book of Sirach says, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?” This Sunday, Christ calls us to forgive freely just as His Heavenly Father does. And though not all that entertaining, walking the path of forgiveness is vastly more difficult than walking the path of vengeance, and if we persevere to the end (God willing), it’s far more satisfying.