Gospel Reflection for Sept. 13, 2020, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The period of lockdown due to the pandemic has taught us many things, especially about how reliant we are upon one another. Compliance with the demands of wearing face protection and practicing social distancing have been stressors for many people. At the same time our limited mobility, especially in the beginning, along with the added uncertainty of working from home, homeschooling our children and adjusting to the strain of constant family time or the deafening silence of being alone, brought out more of the worst rather than the best in many of us. When we couple that with the din of the continuous news cycle and the ever-changing protocols on what to do and how to prepare, and our innate fear of either catching or transmitting the virus, the past six months have proved to be very difficult. And, as all of us are not living out the protocols of the social contract in the same way, making judgments about and against others has become very easy. 

It is certainly easy to understand why Peter asks Jesus the question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” 

Peter is asking a legalistic question. Following immediately from Jesus’ teaching last Sunday, Peter wants to know what is the least one has to do in order to be merciful to his brother. Jesus responds by telling a parable. Like so many other parables Jesus tells, this one takes us to the absurd as an example. He imagines that a man is settling accounts and a debtor comes who owes him 10,000 talents. Conservatively that would amount to $3,878,400,000 for an average New Jersey resident. This is an unfathomable sum of money. It is hard to imagine what one could do to amass such a debt, and even harder to imagine the terms of attempting to pay it off. To parallel that in terms of the grievance that one might have with a relative or friend, this would have to be an unspeakable breach of trust. And yet, the man who owns the debt just writes it off.  This mind-boggling amount of money is just written off, no questions asked. 

Yet, when this man who has just experienced this bountiful forgiveness encounters someone who owes him a mere 100 denarii, roughly $24,480, he has that man thrown into prison. He attempts to exact vengeance against one whose debt to him, while formidable in itself, pales in comparison to the amount of debt that he had just forgiven.

Clearly this man learned nothing about the meaning of mercy. 

When dealing with matters of forgiveness and the dynamics of personal relationships, it can get very easy to become legalistic and trivial. While prudence dictates that we don’t want to be taken advantage of by people who choose only to use us, we must at the same time reach deeper and deeper into our experience of mercy so that we can extend mercy even to the most egregious of sinners.

We all experience the bountiful mercy of God each day. Because many of us do not require great mercy because we believe our sins are not that great, we can lose sight of the depth of God’s mercy for us. 

In dealing with family, friends, neighbors, classmates or coworkers it can be very easy to “keep score.” We know how often we have been grieved and we know who last said “I’m sorry” or the one who perhaps has never apologized. This keeping score is what Peter wanted to do. He wanted to get to the limit and then go no farther. 

Jesus responds by reminding Peter, and us, that the Lord has forgiven our $3 billion loan and is willing to loan us even more when we need it. We all know that we will need more mercy for we never run out of need. There should then not exist the circumstance in which we would refuse to forgive another. 

Yes, it is a lot to ask, but we ask more from the Lord each and every day.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.