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The parable of the unforgiving servant

Gospel Reading: Mt 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.

Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘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 in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Forgiven to forgive
Fr. John Monbourquette, in his bestselling book How To Forgive, writes: “If you want to be happy for a moment, then seek revenge. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, then grant forgiveness.” He follows it up by explaining the four possibilities and consequences if we do not forgive.

First, we perpetuate the grief suffered within ourselves and in others. When we feel assaulted or violated, we tend to mimic our offender. Any predisposition to hostility and to domination of others risks being transmitted from generation to generation through families and cultures. Only forgiveness can break the chain reaction.

Second, we live with constant resentment. Resentment is a form of disguised anger that festers around a badly healed wound. Its negative effects include paranoia, and it is the origin of psychosomatic illness like cancer, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Third, we remain fixated on the past. People who will not or cannot forgive have trouble living in the now.

Unforgiveness paralyzes life: memories of the past only increase old pain; the future is blocked, and there are no new projects or new relationships.

Fourth, we seek revenge. The instinct for revenge blinds anyone who gives in to it. It only leads to an endless cycle of violence similar to Mafia vendettas and rido or clan war among Muslims.

In the Gospel, Jesus confronts Peter with the truth that the spirit of forgiveness knows no limits. Jesus then proceeds to tell the parable of the Unforgiving Servant wherein a king shows mercy to his servant by canceling entirely his huge debt even if the original request was only an extension of patience and time to pay the debt!

But because he refuses to forgive a fellow servant who owes him a mere pittance, the king imposes the former sentence (“to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property”) and even adds to it (“handed him over to the torturers”). Failure to forgive a brother will bring severe punishment!

We are all God’s debtors (cf Rom 3:23). The parable teaches us that the Kingdom of heaven is to consist of people who are both forgiven and forgiving, who have both received mercy and are merciful. “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:13).

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SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.