domenica 17 settembre 2017

«De cordibus vestris»

We are still reading the discourse on the Church. If you remember, last Sunday Jesus gave his disciples some instructions about fraternal correction; today he speaks of forgiveness. Both “admonish sinners” and “forgive offenses” are works of spiritual mercy. It means that the Church is a “house of mercy”—the place where Christians, recognizing themselves as sinners, correct each other and forgive each other.

We can draw several teachings from today’s gospel. The first teaching is taken from Peter’s question: “How often must I forgive?” Jesus replies: “Seventy-seven times.” Others translate: “Seventy times seven.” In either case the meaning is the same: “Always.” Forgiveness should have no limits.

We find the second teaching in the following parable—the merciless servant. The gospel presents this parable as an illustration of Jesus’ reply to Peter. Actually, it does not deal with repeated forgiveness; rather, it would seem an exemplification of the fifth petition of the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”—literally: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” If you remember, at the end of his prayer, Jesus annotates: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15). So, if we want to experience God’s mercy on the last day, we have to use mercy toward others now.

But, if we read attentively the parable, we realize that the master’s forgiveness comes before the servant’s refusal. That is exactly our situation. We have been already forgiven by God. And that is why we have to forgive others. Even the different amount of the two debts underlines our actual condition. In our translation, we read “a huge amount” and “a much smaller amount.” In the original text, there is written: “ten thousand talents” and “a hundred denarii.” There is an enormous disproportion between the two amounts, as between a hundred million dollars and ten dollars. It is impossible to repay the first debt; for this reason, the only way to come off well is the forgiveness of the debt. It is totally useless to say: “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” It is just an empty promise; it would be better to throw yourself on your creditor’s mercy. On the contrary, the small debt of the second servant, with some patience, could be paid back easily. But the first servant shows himself merciless. It is precisely what we do: after experiencing God’s mercy, we treat others without mercy. Even in our case, our debt with God was exorbitant and not repayable. And yet God took pity on us and forgave us our debt. On the other hand, the offenses against us are usually minor things that could easily be settled; instead, they become insurmountable mountains which prevent us from living at peace with others. It is obvious that, if we show ourselves merciless with our fellow creatures, the forgiveness we had received will be revoked, and on the judgement day, instead of mercy, we will experience God’s wrath.

There is a final detail we cannot neglect. At the end of today’s passage Jesus says: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart (de cordibus vestris).” It is not sufficient to forgive others; we have to forgive them from our heart. The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes on this point: “It is there, ‘in the depths of the heart,’ that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (#2843).