Mission Society of the Philippines

Homilies

24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: CHRISTIAN FORGIVENESS IS WITHOUT LIMITS

Mt 18: 21-35

DURING HIS PONTIFICATE, Pope John Paul II (now a saint) was shot by a Turk named Ali Agca. The saintly Pope made a move that was worth emulating. According to a book, Why He’s a Saint, the Pope decided to forgive his would-be assassin while he was in the ambulance on his way to the hospital moments after being shot in St. Peter's Square. The late Holy Father knew very well that forgiveness, for a Christian, is imperative. In other words, we must always be ready to forgive others even if others do not ask for it.
 
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us about Christian forgiveness which is a crucial component in community life. Let us try to go over once again the gospel and look at the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness.
 
Firstly, forgiveness is infinite. When he was asked by Peter how many times should he forgive others, Jesus answered, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times.” If we try to solve this mathematically, there can still be a limit of forgiving. But, no, the point of Jesus is this: we should not count how many times should we forgive. As long as there is need for forgiving, we must be ready to offer our forgiveness. The truth is, we sin often, or we commit mistakes often. And therefore, forgiveness should be done more often. In the case of the late Pope, we would say that there is no need of forgiving because on the first place, the would-be assassin did not say sorry to the Pope. But the saintly Pope readily offered forgiveness to him.
 
Secondly, forgiveness should be understood in the fact that we have been forgiven by God. In the succeeding parable, the king made a remark to the unforgiving servant, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” People who withhold forgiveness are people who have a very short memory of who they are before God. They forget, in the first place, that they are sinners and that they have been forgiven by God. If only we have this awareness that we have been “forgiven” first by God, then, it would be easier for us to forgive others. Who are we then to withhold forgiveness when in reality we too are sinners, like others? We are no perfect human beings. We do commit sin, and God is ready to forgive us. Therefore, we must also exercise pity and mercy toward others who have wronged us.
 
Thirdly, in the end, we will be judged by God according to our ability to forgive others. Jesus ended the parable with the phrase, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” Indeed, forgiveness is a Christian imperative. Because we are Christians, we must be forgiving. That is our calling! However, our understanding of forgiveness is this. We make a sort of condition that the one who has done us wrong, should come to us and ask for forgiveness. Moreover, when we are still nursing the hurt, we don’t forgive yet. We need to wait for the healing of wounds before we can forgive a wrongdoer. However, if we try to reflect on what had happened to St John Paul II, these conditions were absent. The would-be assassin never came to him and said sorry, and likewise, the Pope was still nursing the pain at that time. But nevertheless, he said, “I forgive you.”
 
One last note! When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for forgiveness from God for our sins, but it appears to be conditional because the prayer continues to say, “as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Thus, it is wrong to ask forgiveness from God, when, at the same time, we withhold our forgiveness from others. The implication of the prayer is that we could only ask forgiveness from God, when we have already forgiven others. Amen.
 

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