THE message of this Sunday’s Gospel is straightforward. It’s about forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus how often he must forgive, Jesus answered, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
To expound on this lesson on forgiveness, Jesus shared with his disciples this parable: “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 him 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.”
One would think that the servant would leave happily, rejoice with his friends, and be inspired to do as his master showed him. But no, the parable went to say that the forgiven servant went to his fellow servant to demand him a full payment of his debt. “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back,” his fellow servant pleaded. But he refused and had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.
This is a disturbing attitude for a person who just experienced forgiveness himself. The most gracious effect of being forgiven is also to forgive someone who has wronged us. It’s no wonder that the master in the Gospel got angry when he found out what his servant did. So he handed the servant over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.
In telling the parable to his disciples, Jesus wanted his disciples to become like him: to be merciful and forgiving as he was. They could only do this if they admired Jesus in his heroic examples of forgiveness and if they, themselves, experienced God’s bountiful mercy.
“You become like what you worship,” Tom Wright states in his book, “Simply Christian.” “When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of worship,” he added.
Indeed, we hope that we become like Jesus every time we hear his Gospel proclaimed and preached and then respond to it with awe in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It’s hypocritical to worship him and admire his words and not put them into practice.
The greatest scandal of a Christian Church or a Christian nation is not to uphold and live by the words of Jesus Christ. We’ve seen it in the history of the world: the experiences of genocide, slavery, racism, discrimination, corruption, injustice, extra-judicial killings, and poverty. We think that we’ve come a long way in our progress of transforming society with the values of Jesus Christ, particularly those of mercy and forgiveness, but we haven’t. In fact, there are times when we think that we have instead regressed in translating our faith into action.
Let’s pray for the authenticity of faith among us Christians. Let’s pray for a different experience of a scandal: the scandal of Jesus on the Cross who forgave the good thief and promised him the rewards of eternal life in heaven.
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.