Homily of 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 17th

The first reading is taken from the Book of Sirach 27:30, 28:7. In the verses read today, Sirach tells us that we must forgive our neighbor if we want God to forgive us our own sins. We must be merciful if we hope to obtain mercy from God. We must not seek revenge on a neighbor lest God should take vengeance on us. If we remember our end in life we will keep God’s commandments and we will not be angry with a neighbor who offends us.

The second reading is from the St. Paul to the Romans 14:7-9. In these three verses St. Paul emphasizes the fact that through our baptism we have been made members of Christ’s mystical body, we have become brothers of Christ, intimately united with him in his death and resurrection. Whether living or dead we belong to Christ. It was for this purpose, to unite all men closely to himself not only in this life but especially in the next, that Christ became man and “dwelt among us.”

The Gospel is from St. Matthew 18:21-35. On reading or hearing this story of the merciless servant, each one of us would rightly judge him a mean, low type of man, a heartless man, who puts himself outside the pale of mercy. He throttled his fellow-servant for a paltry debt of ten dollars, and would not listen to the poor man’s plea for mercy. When we hear what the king did to this heartless servant we heartily approve and say: “It served him right, he got what he richly deserved.”

We had better stop and think for a moment today and reflect that we ourselves may be that merciless servant described in the parable. Every time we have sinned mortally we have incurred an unpayable debt to God. Each time we have received absolution we have come out of God’s courtroom as free men. A weight greater than a million dollar debt has been lifted from our shoulders. A fate worse than generations of earthly imprisonment — that is, eternal slavery — has been spared us because of God’s loving, infinite mercy. How then can it happen that we could be so heartless, mean, and foolish as to refuse to forgive a neighbor for some offense he has committed against us?

Yet it happens, and it may be that there are some among us here today who continue to have enmity in their hearts against neighbors who offended them. In their hard-heartedness they cannot get themselves to forgive and forget. Are these not following in the footsteps of the merciless servant? Will they not receive the punishment of the merciless servant — a punishment richly deserved? This will be the fate of all unforgiving Christians; they will meet an unforgiving God when they are called to settle their accounts.

That day has not yet come for us. We still have time to put our affairs in order. We still can forgive all our enemies from our heart. If we do not, we are cutting ourselves off from the possibility of having our own sins and offenses forgiven by God. We have the solemn word of our divine Lord for this in the lesson he draws from the parable “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you (that is, deliver us up to eternal slavery) if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

~~Excerpted from The Sunday Readings by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan, O.F.M.