March 14th, 2023

The Gospel according to Matthew (18:21-35) 

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”


The Lenten season is about new life, forgiveness and reconciliation.  We all agree on that, right?  One of the sources I use for background on these reflections, the Irish Jesuits, suggested a point that I hadn’t really thought of in regard to that view of Lent.  Today’s Gospel highlights that point, too – the Irish Jesuits observed, “forgiveness is a unilateral act.  Reconciliation is not.”  It’s a good point to ponder from today’s Gospel and as we continue our walk through Lent.

Each of us is called to choose to forgive.  Peter, in today’s Gospel, asks if he has to forgive another “even seven times”.   In Peter’s mind, forgiving seven times is a LOT!  Is it enough?  No.  One of the other accounts of this conversation has Jesus not suggesting forgiving *only* seventy-seven times, but seventy TIMES seven times (490 times!).  Is Jesus actually saying that we should keep some kind of tab on how many times we forgive?  Of course not.

The real lesson at play here is that we are to forgive and forgive and forgive AGAIN, and never tire of doing so, because our Lord is that way with us.  There is no tally sheet in the confessional for us to watch.  God forgives simply because we ask.  The king in today’s story forgave and the servant, even after receiving that forgiveness, failed to forgive his fellow servant.

We are called to forgive, and we should.  That is the main thing we are called to do between us and our God, and we receive absolution (forgiveness) by Jesus in the person of the priest.  That is true reconciliation, as if we are truly sorry for our sins, God is truly merciful and forgives.  But, between us human beings, there can be forgiveness without reconciliation.  We can forgive another for some harmful action, but if that person isn’t sorry, there can’t be true reconciliation. 

Those are very hard situations, indeed.  We are called to forgive, and to pray that the other will also take responsibility and say that they are sorry.  Whether they ever do that is up to that other person.  Forgiveness is up to us.  Let us ask God today to help us, if we have someone we need to forgive.  Forgiveness is not saying that the hurtful act is “okay” – no, it is just saying that we won’t let that bitterness keep poisoning us from the inside. 

During this Lent, let us seek to find that peace that comes from forgiveness.

Action for the Day:

Take a moment today and consider if there is someone who has wronged you whom you have not forgiven.  Ask God to give you the grace to forgive, and to let that wrong go, and to trust that He will sustain you to heal from it.

If you would like to hear this reflection, click the link below! 

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