First reading Ecclesiasticus 27:33-28:9
Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you; and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven
Resentment and anger, these are foul things,
and both are found with the sinner.
He who exacts vengeance will experience the vengeance of the Lord,
who keeps strict account of sin.
Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you,
and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.
If a man nurses anger against another,
can he then demand compassion from the Lord?
Showing no pity for a man like himself,
can he then plead for his own sins?
Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment;
who will forgive him his sins?
Remember the last things, and stop hating,
remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments.
Remember the commandments, and do not bear your neighbour ill-will;
remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offence.
Responsorial Psalm 102(103):1-4,9-12
The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings.
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion.
His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.
Second reading Romans 14:7-9
Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord
The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord. This explains why Christ both died and came to life: it was so that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Gospel Matthew 18:21-35
To be forgiven, you must forgive
Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.
‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’
The English mystic, Julian of Norwich (died 1413), a contemporary of Chaucer and the first woman writer of our language, is confident of God’s forgiveness: ‘Full lovingly does our Lord hold us when it seems to us we are nearly forsaken and cast away because of our sin – and deservedly so. Our courteous Lord does not want his servants to despair even when they fall often and grievously into sin. For our falling does not hinder him from loving us’ (‘Showings’, 39).
‘Some of us believe that God is all powerful and may do everything; and that he is all wise and can do everything; but as for believing that he is all love and will do everything, there we hold back. In my view nothing hinders God’s lovers more than the failure to understand this. As by his courtesy God forgives our sins when we repent, even so he wills that we should forgive our sin, and so give up our senseless worrying and faithless fear’ (‘Showings’ 73).
Sin does not prevent God offering love. It can prevent us receiving it. We are made for the intimacy of union with God. So it matters that we do not sin. But when we do sin, we must not become so self-focused and so ashamed that we fail to remember the love that poured out for us from the wounded heart of Jesus.
Let acknowledgment of our sin humble us to look upon the one we have pierced and allow him to continue to forgive us, continue to give himself for us. We may then learn from our failures, learn that we are utterly dependent upon God’s love, and learn that his great love is without end.
If forgiveness can be such a wonderful grace for us, how can we refuse to offer it to others? Offering it may demand of us what it demanded of Jesus. A heart of flesh is easy to pierce. Blood and tears may well flow. But we owe it to others to continue to love them unconditionally.
Did not the Jesus who forgives us plead with us to ‘love one another as I have loved you’? And love in the real world always means forgiveness, for none of us is innocent.
Fr Michael Fallon msc