The Mystery of Forgiveness
(24th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:30—28:7; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)
Today we begin with statistics. How often, I wondered, did God forgive his people, as compared to the times he punished them. It took little research to show that, in the vast majority of cases, forgiveness is either given or promised.
One of the classic texts is found in today’s Psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”
In the first reading and the Gospel, it is clear that our starting point or, if you prefer, our default position, ought to be a readiness—dare we say eagerness?—to forgive.
During my research, however, I was struck also by the number of times forgiveness is paired with atonement. A typical example is in Leviticus 5:13: “The priest shall make atonement on the person’s behalf for the wrong committed, so that the individual may be forgiven.”
Herein lies the connection to the reading from Romans. Paul writes: “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living,” The context for this saying is made clear in the very next sentence: “Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
We are not lords of one another. That title belongs exclusively to Jesus. It was bestowed on him when he offered himself on the cross as atonement for our sins. As his disciples, we do not have the option to withhold forgiveness.
Part of the submission to which the Beautiful Lady of La Salette calls us is that we accept the mercy won for us by her Son. Once we do so, it will be a joy for us to honor him as he deserves.
Novelist Terry Goodkind writes, “There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive” (Temple of the Winds, p. 318).
Substitute the word “grace” for “magic,” and see how the text is transformed: no longer words of wisdom, but an invitation to enter into one of the great mysteries of our faith.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.