HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: “SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN!”
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Once there was a king who collected live crocodiles. He kept them in the pool at the back of his palace. He also had a beautiful daughter. One day he hosted a big party and invited the prominent families of his kingdom, along with their bachelor sons. During the party he announced: “My friends, I am looking for the most courageous man for my daughter. I will give my daughter in marriage or award a million dollars to the man who can swim across this pool full of crocodiles unharmed!” Almost immediately, even before he finished speaking, there was a big splash in the pool!
Everybody turned around and saw one guy swimming very fast. In just a matter of seconds, he crossed the pool – unharmed! The king was impressed: “Oh, my! You are, indeed, a brave young man! I did not think this could be done! You have proven me wrong. Now, which do you want: my daughter or the one million dollars?” The young man looked at the king and said, “Listen, I am not interested in your daughter. And I don’t need your money. But right now, I want to know who pushed me into that pool!”
It is never easy to forgive. Our fallen human nature is always inclined towards the boosting of our ego. Hence, we consider revenge as the natural course of action against anyone who has done harm to our ego. Sometimes the desire for revenge is so strong that, for some people, it has become the sole motivation for living.
In Mindanao, in southern Philippines, most Muslim families are engaged in “Rido”, or feuds characterized by sporadic outbursts of retaliatory violence between families and clans, as well as between communities. Muslim families and tribes there have adopted a custom of planting a bamboo tree in their backyard as a reminder that another family or tribe has offended them. Thus, the children will not forget the injustice done to their family and take vengeance at the next opportunity. In a typical Muslim neighborhood, bamboo trees are a common sight. For outsiders, these bamboo trees may add beauty to the surrounding, but for the residents, these are silent heralds that peace is always fragile and short-lived, mainly due to the endless tribal wars and family feuds that are fueled by their insatiable thirst for revenge and violence.
In 2001, the world was jolted when terrorists bombed the World Trade Center, instantly killing three thousand innocent people. We were all shocked, saddened and furious. We demanded that the perpetrators of this heinous crime be hunted down and brought to justice. Hence, wars against terrorists were waged – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in several other countries in the world. These wars have already killed hundreds of thousands of people, combatants and non-combatants alike – exponentially exceeding the number of those killed in the bombing of the Twin Towers. And the wars and killings show no sign of stopping, for we all know that violence begets violence. Indeed, as a saying goes, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
The teaching of Jesus is the only rational solution to this problem. As long as people continue to uphold the need and desire for revenge, there will be no end to wars and violence. Forgiveness is the way to reconciliation between opposing parties, and hence, the key to peace in the world. Violence has to stop, and it starts with the decision to forgive one another and to reject all forms of violence.
Aside from peace, forgiving one another has other important benefits. First, we are able to free our hearts from all the negative feelings and sentiments. Unwillingness to forgive leads to the accumulation of resentments, hatred, insecurities and hurt feelings in our hearts that cause undue strain to our emotional, psychological and physical health. On the other hand, learning to forgive gives us peace of mind and a healthier and positive mood. Indeed, forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.
Second, when we forgive others, we become disposed to receive God’s forgiveness. We are all sinners. As St. Paul said, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Fortunately, though, God is loving and merciful to all sinners. He forgives all our sins, but under one important condition: that we also forgive others. That is why in the prayer Jesus taught us, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is the lesson of the parable this Sunday.
And most importantly, when we forgive, we show that we are children of God. We always say, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Forgiveness is a quality of God. It is the expression of His love for sinners. He loves us so much that He always forgives us of our sins every time we are sincerely sorry for them. Hence, Jesus gives us the command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:44-45). Then, we are able to follow the example of Jesus who prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
In this Mass, let us examine our hearts and make sure there are no resentments and hatred toward anybody. Otherwise, we cannot receive God’s forgiveness, and we will not be able to participate meaningfully in the Eucharistic celebration. The Lord exhorts us: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23). Indeed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God!” (Mt 5:9).
There is a quotation, “Faults are thick where love is thin; faults are thin where love is thick.” It is not difficult for God to forgive us “seventy-times seven times” because His love for us is infinitely superabundant. On the other hand, we find it difficult to forgive others because we have not enough love.
So we pray: “Lord, fill our hearts with your love so that we may be able to forgive those who have wronged us, and become instruments of peace and harmony in the world. Amen.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422