Ordinary Time, 24th Sunday. Do you remember what you were doing on September 11th, 2001? Most of us can. The world after 9/11 is a very different place than before. We distinctly remember the visions of horror as the towers burned. We also remember the visions of beauty as people prayed, served, and gave of themselves in the aftermath of the tragedy.
On this 10th anniversary, our liturgy provides us with a Gospel about forgiveness. Let’s dig into the Gospel to see how radical it is. In the time of Jesus, it was commonly accepted that you had to forgive someone 3 times when he offended you (like a ‘three strikes’ rule). Peter is willing to go above and beyond by forgiving his brother even 7 times. Jesus blows everything out of proportion by asking for 77 times of forgiveness. Then he explains it with a parable (Matthew 18:21-35). The “huge amount” that the servant owes his master is 10,000 talents. The “much smaller amount” he is owed is 100 denarii. There were about 6,000 denarii in a talent. Roughly this is equivalent to being forgiven 60 million dollars, and than shaking down a buddy for a hundred bucks. You can see why the master has a right to be angry. Jesus says that we have been forgiven so much, we have no right to refuse to forgive our brother.
We think if we forgive, the offender gets off scott free. But this is not the case. The offender still has to answer to the Master. Forgiveness allows us to turn the offenses of another into a benefit for myself. It’s kind of like spiritual Judo. Judo is that martial art where supposedly you use your opponent’s strength against him. With forgiveness, the wounds someone tries to inflict on me end up helping me instead. I put them to good use, so that as my enemy tries to cut me down, I grow stronger.
One of the victims of the holocaust was found with this little prayer in his pocket:
O Lord, remember not only those of goodwill, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us;
Instead remember all the fruits we have born because of this suffering —
our fellowship, our loyalty to one other, our humility, our courage,
our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble.
When our persecutors come to be judged by you,
Let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
In the midst of evil and tragedy, we can rise the the occasion and become better people. I bet Osama bin Laden did not intend for all of America to attend church because of his attacks, but that is exactly what happened. My hope and my prayer is that some time in the ten years after the attack, Osama bin Laden realized the evil he had done and repented, and God forgave him. Maybe he’s now in heaven, and has me the thousands of victims of the violence and evil he promoted. Maybe this seems a little far-fetched to you, but this is what Christianity is all about. After all, the master forgave me 60 million. Why should I resent it if the Master forgives another servant a couple billion.
(11 Sept 2011)
(The prayer is quoted from Sunday Homily Helps, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 9/11/2011)