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Homily for 24 (A)
“I cancelled all that debt of yours, when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”
There is a fundamental principle at work in today’s reading with which we should be familiar – it is the principle of reciprocity in human relations. Do as you would be done by - because the way that you treat others may well be key to the way that you yourself are treated. And not just by other people, but by God himself.
We read in our first reading today, “Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.” The words are familiar because we echo them several times a day when we say the Lord’s Prayer.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We say it often enough, without, perhaps, fully weighing the implications of the words. They seem to imply that we might not be forgiven ourselves if we do not forgive. Can this be true? Well, apparently, yes it can, as Jesus makes clear today in the parable that he uses. The King in the story represents God himself, and the parable makes clear that, although we have been forgiven through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, that same forgiveness may be revoked if it is not emulated and passed on in our own lives and behaviour. The disciple is called to be a person of forgiveness.
The disciple is also called to be a person of self-knowledge and honesty. Human beings are a funny lot, and we have many interesting ways of going wrong, straying from what God wants. The one that is God is most concerned about is our tendency to worship the wrong things. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The second greatest area of concern is this question of forgiveness and forgiving behaviour. We can make no progress as individuals or communities without it. At worst, we can turn the other way. Hatred can become the major component of our personalities, and of our perception of who we are. It can become the source of all our energy and burn with a fire that consumes us in the end.
We can hate someone who wrongs us.
We can hate people for being different to us.
We can hate specific other people or cultures – the Protestants, the Catholics, the Jews, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Turks, the Greeks, the Socialists, the Tories, the EU, the Brexiters, the people of North Finchley who were on the wrong side in the Civil War. I’m joking about the people of North Finchley, but the temptation that I am discussing is no joke. We can let ourselves as individuals or communities become defined by what we are against rather than by who we are and what we believe in. At worst, we can make do just with hatred. There are people whose lives are just filled with hatred. For the really corrupt human psyche, aversion and hatred become sufficient food for a whole lifetime. They have the attraction of turning the attention away from the self and towards the image that we have set up to hate. It is a perilous path for set out upon, which is why the Lord deals with it so firmly.
When we pray the “Our Father”, we should be aware of the profound organic unity between the five sections:
We address the Father and we say, “hallowed be thy name” – “may your name be held holy”, we are acknowledging the power and sway of Almighty God.
We pray for the rule of God to be felt in all things: “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This rule constrains us but also brings us the benefits of a just order in which we may be fed and flourish: “Give us this day our daily bread” – this despite our sins and failings.
And so we say:
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
that we may have the strength to live in the power of your forgiveness and take it to others.
So it is that the obligation of forgiveness, of living a life free from hatred is connected to all the other petitions of this, our foundational prayer. We cannot be God’s children unless we forgive and we cannot expect to be blessed and nourished if we betray God’s Kingdom on this most fundamental level
Our faith calls us to a path of self-discovery. We are called to know who we are, rather than to loathe what we are not. As we grow to know ourselves, we find God there, and we learn to share him with others, even with those who have wronged us or who inspire fear or distrust in us. We are called to mine the riches that we are given, and we reminded very firmly today, that God will accept nothing else.