HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: THE VIRTUE OF FORGIVENESS.
BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr).
Sir 27: 30 – 28: 7, Rom 14: 7 – 9, Matt 18: 21 – 35.
For over 3 Sundays now the gospel readings have focused on the Church welfare: The 21st Sunday focused on the commissioning of the Church – ‘On this rock I will build my Church’. The 22nd Sunday warned against Satanism in the Church – ‘Get behind me Satan’. The 23rd Sunday spoke about the need for conflict resolution in order to avoid the rupture of Church fellowship. Today the readings talk about the indispensable virtue of forgiveness in both the ecclesial and individual context.
The superiority of Christianity over every other religions lies in its teaching on forgiveness and love of the enemy. *The power of Christianity lies not in long prayers, sweet hymns, powerful jirations in fellowship or even in miracles and Charismatic gifts like tongues or deliverance ministries but in the imitation of Christ.* According to Vima Dasan, ‘The heart of Christianity is love, but the power of love is forgiveness. Any religion that propagates vengeance promotes brutality’.
Vengeance is one of the most destructive threats to human existence on earth. Any religion, tribe or sect that preaches vengeance remains a threat to peace and harmony any time, any where. For example, in Igbo traditional religion we say: ‘E mee emegwalu aburo okwu’ – or as it reads in Pidgin English: ‘Do me I do you, God no go vex’. In the Fulani cosmology, it is even a more terrible situation. A Fulani governor once made a public declaration that any blood of a Fulani man shed any where any time is an investment for 7 fold vengeance in the far future. And so, Peter’s bargain for vengeance after 7 times forgiveness was a big improvement on the moral status quo of his time. Mosaic law had opted for ‘an eye for an eye’. Jewish Prophets like Elijah took their pounds of flesh on their spiritual enemies. The Jewish rabbis opted for at most 3 times forgiveness before vengeance. So, Peter taught he was actually being over magnanimous in today’s gospel but Christ taught him a radical lesson that forgiveness must be boundless if we must ever go by the name ‘Christian’.
Forgiveness remains a very difficult and sometimes unrealistic virtue to practice. Cases of infidelity, snatching of husbands /wives, murder, fraud, violence, rape, etc make forgiveness hard and inexpedient. I think there are *3 major reasons why we need to forgive our neighbour* who offends us;
*(i) In order to be forgiven by God since we too offend God.*
*(ii) In order to set ourselves free.* A theologian said that ‘To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover the prisoner was you’.
*(iii) In order to heal /restore our relationships and maintain peace and order in the society.*
Alexander Pope said that ‘To err is human but to forgive is divine’. I will like to add that ‘To forgive is also the business of children of God’. Divine filiation places on us the obligation to imitate God in forgiveness. According to Vima Dasan, ‘We are like beasts when we kill; like men when we judge and like God when we forgive’. Forgiveness is a sign of supremacy. When we forgive our erring child, for example, we reaffirm our dignity of fatherhood /motherhood. Like a man who puts his house on fire in his bid to kill a rat who wakes him from sleep in the night, so are we in our vengeance mission.
*D. THE ELASTIC LIMIT OF FORGIVENESS*
Going by Christ’s parable for today, the only elastic limit for forgiveness is the one we place on ourselves through the vice of wickedness. Christ makes it clear that, like the unforgiving /wicked servant debtor, we seize to deserve forgiveness as soon as we fail to forgive our neighbour. The real definition of wickedness is receiving kindness and refusing to extend it to others. For a smooth running of any human society perhaps, the man whose offense should not be forgiven is the wicked man who is bent on killing another or who endangers another’s freedom. It is said that ‘One man’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins’. The difference between forgiveness and patience is that the former lets go a repentant offender while the latter forebears a weakness seen in a growing human being. The difference between tolerance and laxity is that the former allows a growing human being to learn while the latter encourages the growth of evil.
*It is necessary for example for a teacher to fail a student who fails to study to pass his exam but it is wicked for a man to sack his apprentice after 7 years of service just for breaking a tumbler in his dining table.
*E. OUR LAST MOMENTS*
Today’s 2nd reading reminds us that both in life and in death, we are the Lord’s. But the greatest tragedy is to get back to one’s creator with a burden of unforgiveness. A servant who goes back to his master with an unforgiving heart is like a Prince who comes back to the palace after a weight lifting exercise carrying an engine crankshaft.
* Story of the man who woke up from the mortuary and gives the testimony of being sent back from the gate of heaven for failure to forgive his wife.
‘Marriage’ says Thomas Pazayampalil, ‘is a union of 2 good forgivers’. *Please, if you are not ready to forgive your partner don’t marry him /her.* Forgiveness for a Christian cannot be an occasional act but a persistent attitude. The virtue of forgiveness is the highest virtue we need especially at our last hours in order to be able to translate from life to death and from death back to life.
* Story of two quarreling brothers, Myke and Patrick reconciled by a priest on the other’s sick bed. Patrick said as soon as the priest was about to leave: ‘Remember Myke, that this reconciliation counts only in case I die. If I survive this sickness we must continue from where we stopped’. Jesus made it clear: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they alone shall obtain mercy’. Happy Sunday dear friends!
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