Saturday, September 16, 2017

24th Ordinary Sunday, Year A, 17.09.2017

Ecclesiasticus 27:30 – 28:7 / Romans 14:7-9 / Matthew 18:21-35

In this parish, as well as in the other parishes, there is this regular occurrence. There will be individuals wandering into the premises and asking for money.

If they are asking for money in order to have some food for the day, then we are obligated to help them, for that is our Christian duty. And we will help them in their sustenance for a day or two, and we would also see if the SSVP can give them further assistance.

But more often than not, there are people who come to ask for money and they say it’s for their rent, or their medical bills or utility bills and they are asking for at least $100. And they will make promises to repay it back as soon as they have the money. In effect they are asking for a loan, which of course the church is unable to do so.

But on a personal level, we have the experience of people like family members, relatives, colleagues and friends coming to us with a sob-story and begging us to lend them some money for an urgent need, and the amount that they are asking is a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars!

And we also have the experience of being soft-hearted and we lend – a few hundred or a few thousand dollars – our hard-earned money. And we also have the experience that when we ask for our money back, we only get empty promises and excuses. 

And those who borrowed money from us and have not repaid us, we will always remember them. (So if we want someone to remember us, just borrow money from them and don’t return it :) They will certainly remember us always, although not for a good reason :( )

In the gospel, Jesus told a parable that we can immediately understand, especially if we had lent people some money and they haven’t return it to us.

What the servant owed the king – 10 thousand talents – was an enormous amount and impossible for the servant to repay it.

The servant pleaded with the king – “Give me time and I will pay back the whole sum”. We too have heard this from those who borrowed money from us – “Give me some time and I will repay you”, and we wait and wait and wait.

In the parable the king had pity on that servant and wrote off that enormous debt. But the reality for us is that it is so difficult to write off a debt, especially if it is a large sum of money. It is like a knife that is stuck in our hearts.

But the gospel parable uses the imagery of a monetary debt to point to a spiritual debt. When others do wrong to us, how willing are we to forgive, especially when they don’t seem to deserve it.

There is this book “The Sunflower” written by a Nazi holocaust survivor, Simon Weisenthal. His pain was extremely intense: 85 members of his family died in the concentration camps.
In his book, he tells of this story that one day when he was in the concentration camp, a nurse came and told him to follow her. He was led to a make-shift hospital and into a very small room, which had a single bed and lying on the bed was a person almost completely wrapped in bandages.

It was obvious that this person was about to die soon. Simon was left alone with this person and then the dying person began to speak and he told his story. 

He was a young man, 21 years-old, a member of the dreaded SS troops. He had been raised a Catholic but was swayed over to the Nazis and he joined the elite SS troops. 

When he was in the eastern zone, he was given the assignment to deal with the Jews in the zone, which actually meant killing them by any means. This incident troubled the young SS soldier as his early faith formation rebelled against what he did. He grew careless and was distracted and during a battle, he was wounded to this state. 

One of the things that were on his mind was that above all, he wanted forgiveness from a Jew. And so it happened that the nurse called in Simon Weisenthal, and there he was, listening to the young man’s story and heard his plea.

The dying young man said that he was not born a murderer and he didn’t want to die a murderer, and he begged Simon, on behalf of his people, for forgiveness. Simon Weisenthal says in his book that the only response he could give was to get up and leave the room without saying a word, without granting forgiveness.
He wrote that much later on, his non-response began to trouble him. Should he have granted forgiveness to that dying young man? He could think of many reasons not to, but he still cannot come to terms with his non-response to the pleading of the dying man. He concluded the story by asking the readers to put themselves into his shoes and ask themselves the question: What would I have done?

When people owe us money and they don’t pay up, or when they won’t pay up, it is painful. And whenever we think about it, the knife of resentment and anger twists in our hearts and it becomes more and more difficult to forgive them. 

But when others do wrong to us, it can be more painful because the knife goes round and round in our hearts making a big hole in our hearts and all kindness and compassion are drained away.

The antagonist could be an abusive parent, an unfaithful spouse, a scheming sibling, a back-stabbing colleague, or even a gossip-mongering parishioner.

The hurt and the pain may not be so intense as that of Simon Weisenthal’s, but still it is a twisting cutting pain that hurts the heart and makes it so difficult to forgive.

But the 1st reading reminds us of this: Resentment and anger, these are foul things, and both are found in the sinner. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. Jesus said likewise in the gospel: forgive each other from your heart.

Which makes us look at the other side of the coin. Have we been like that dying young soldier who took the wrong path and was careless and did all the wrong things? 

Of course we can be obstinate and rationalize away our guilt, but one day we will have to come face to face with our sins, and then it will be our turn to plead for forgiveness.

For this, the 1st reading has this profound teaching: Remember the last things and stop hating, remember dissolution and death, and live by the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not bear your neighbor ill-will; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offence.

Yes, let us remember that the gospel is about forgiveness. Just as Jesus forgives His enemies, we too must forgive others. Just as Jesus forgives, our sins are also forgiven.

And as we remember the last things, let us stop hating and start forgiving. And as we forgive those who trespass against us, the Lord will also forgive us our trespasses.