24th Sunday in Ordinary time
The Gospel reading builds on the message of the first reading and begins with Jesus’ well-known injunction that we must forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times”; that is, we must forgive without limit. He then tells a parable full of hyperbole: an impossibly large debt, the king changing all of a sudden from being untypically generous to imposing a punishment of interminable torture. The central message is found in the king’s explanation: “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?”. This shows that our ability to forgive is always related to the fact that God has already totally forgiven us. Our experience of God’s forgiveness must impel us to forgive. The unforgiving servant’s fate arises from his lack of awareness that he has been forgiven and so is obligated to forgive.
We learn to forgive by becoming aware of the extent that we have been forgiven. No one suggests that forgiving is easy. At times, we can be deeply hurt and harbour bitterness. Somehow, we have to get in touch with God’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it. And the image that concludes the parable – “handed over to torturers” – is an apt description, even if highly poetical, of how we feel when we choose not to forgive but to harbour our resentment and allow it to torture us.
John McGrath is a parishioner of St Brigid’s Marrickville.