HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
HOMILY THEME: LIVING BY SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN
BY: Fr. Johnbosco Obika
1st: Sir. 27:30—28:7 Psalm 103
2nd: Rom 14:7-9
Gospel: Matt. 18: 21-35
Still under the tutelage of the master on discipleship 101. Last Sunday Jesus asked us to move out of ourselves and reach out to our brothers and sisters who have wronged us and those are on the way to damnation in order to win back their souls to God. Today, he gives us the formula of “seventy times seven”, an endless forgiveness as an important recipe for this special task. Forgiveness is a bold step to spiritual maturity and true discipleship. We are under obligation to forgive because we are first forgiven by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. So we must endeavour to treat others as God treats us. How does God treat us? The psalmist answers it that God is kind, merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. There are obstacles to forgiveness. In the first reading from one of the wisdom literatures, Ben Sirach presents anger as an obstacle to forgiveness. Wrath and anger fuel unforgivingness and vengeance. Unforgivingness has both spiritual and physical effects. The spiritual effect is that it prevents our prayers from being answered by God. Of course, an angry heart cannot not pray well. Besides spiritual effects, anger has long-term physical effects which include increased anxiety, high blood pressure and headache. God urges us to break free from the shackles of anger and vengeance which fuel inter tribal, interracial, interreligious acrimony and hostility. Let us follow the admonition of St. Paul: “Do not let anger lead you into sin. Do not allow the sun set on your anger. Do not give the devil his opportunity”. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
In the second reading St. Paul presents another obstacle to forgiveness in his letter to the Romans. He says that no one lives for himself. Whether alive or dead we live for Christ. This statement is connected to theme of this Sunday because those who don’t forgive others are those who live for themselves and do not consider others. And when they forgive, they have limit to it. So selfishness is an obstacle to forgiveness. We must eschew selfishness and be generous with mercy.
In the gospel Jesus tells us that forgiveness is limitless using the formula “seventy times seven” or “seventy seven times”. This formula appears twice in the Bible. In Genesis 4:24 (About the punishment of Cain and Lamech) and Matthew 18:22 (Jesus’ response to Peter ). The number symbolizes endlessness (ad infinitum). Peter asked the Lord if one should forgive at the seventh instance of being wronged. The number seven is seen as symbol of completeness and perfection. On the seventh day God rested (Genesis 2:3); Jacob served Laban for seven years; seven priests with seven trumpets fell the wall of Jericho on the seventh day; the seven churches and seven spirits in the book of revelation, etc.
Peter’s statement of forgiving seven times could be said to be more applaudable compared to the teaching of the rabbis of Jesus’ time that one could forgive for three times and strike at the fourth time. This practice was a residue of their understanding of God’s forgiveness and retribution in the book of Amos (1:3 and 6). Peter was sincerely making effort to follow Christ. He exceeded the Jewish rabbinic limit from three times to seven times knowing that following Jesus would demand more. But to Jesus, Peter had not started. forgiveness has no boundaries.
Using the parable of the unforgiving servant Jesus tells us the need to forgive others as God forgives us. The parable also teaches that only those who ask for God’s mercy are capable of being merciful to. The pride do not ask for forgiveness and do forgive. The debtor servant in the parable did not ask for forgiveness from his master rather he asked for time to pay back knowing he could not pay back even if he was to sell all he had. He wanted to manipulate the stipulated terms and conditions by asking for postponement. He wasn’t truly sorry. 1000 talents was a debt too hug for him to pay as poor as he was. This was why he went out to capture his fellow servant who owed him a smaller amount, choked him and had him thrown into prison. Of course when his master heard about it there was a turn of events as he was thrown into prison until he pays all he owed. This parable points to the huge debt of human sins that God forgives. Yet some us find it difficult to ask God for mercy. That is why they find it difficult to be merciful to forgive others. The more you forgive the more you are forgiven. The more you are forgiven the happier you become. May God give us the grace to let go of anger by living the formula of seventy times seven, a life of unlimited forgiveness.