Sunday, September 17, 2023

From your heart

My hiatus was not planned. My life has been busy this summer, at times to the point of overwhelming. I have usually not had the time to write and, on those occasions when I've had time, I simply haven't felt like it.

I hope to get back to posting reflections on the Sunday readings and the Friday traditio as well as some occasional posts on matters of interest.


What struck me about today's Gospel is how reluctant everyone is to discuss it in full. While to allegorize a parable of Jesus is to take a risk, I think the parable of the wicked servant is one that almost requires an allegory. As allegories go, this one seems pretty straightforward to me.

One can only call it something like the parable of the forgiving or merciful God if the parable is truncated. I think Paschal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of revelation still very apt. I can't grasp not only bracketing out parts of the Bible (this is not say context doesn't matter), or even of the New Testament, but those words handed on that are put in Jesus' mouth. God won't be domesticated and we shouldn't make God in an image more conducive to how it seems to us things ought to be.

The subject of the parable, the leading character, if you will, is clearly the servant who was forgiven a huge debt he could never repay and, when threatened by the king to whom he owed the debt, begged for mercy, received mercy, and then did not extend mercy to a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. According to the allegory that comes to mind, the king is God. The servant who owes the great debt is the individual Christian. Here it is necessary to deviate from the allegory a little, but only a little.. According to a certain understanding of Christ's atonement, the debt we owe wasn't merely forgiven. It was paid in full by God's Son. I think such a take is not only congruent with but perhaps even implied by this passage.

Based on the above, any time a Christian refuses to forgive a brother or sister from the heart, s/he becomes the wicked servant. Something about being forgiven our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Or, to borrow words from our first reading: "Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven" (Sirach 28:2).

Jesus use of "brother" reminds us that this pericope is still part of the Church Life Discourse, the fourth of five discourses found in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Therefore, this has an ecclesiological overtone.

Forgiveness is hard. It's even hard when the offense is not egregious. At least in strictly human terms, when the sin is grievous, it may be impossible. But the Christian needs to forsake karma and both accept and offer grace. How else will God's kingdom be realized? If Christians do not live to make the Kingdom of God a present reality, then what is our mission? Doing so often makes us look foolish and naïve. It also makes us somewhat vulenrable. Isn't vulnerability what the Incarnation is all about?

Especially in this age of social media, I don't know how many times I've seen a tweet or a post that begins something like "I am a Christian, but..." Then the author goes on to describe some unforgivable trespass that they are not only not going to forgive but one for which they want vengeance and demand karma do its thing to the perpetrator. Based on our Gospel, it is more accurate to say "hellbent on avenging." Indeed, seeking vengeance is to bend toward hell and away from God's kingdom.

Forgiveness, especially for heinous offenses, is no easy thing. It is work and hard work at that. It's so hard that we probably can't do it without God's help. It's just this kind of endeavor that brings about conversion, change and even transformation into the likeness of Christ.

I think Saint Ignatius of Loyola's concept of indifference is very useful when it comes to forgiving others. "Indifference" in the Ignatian sense is not apathy, being uncaring or passive. In a short article on indifference according to Ignatian spirituality, Marina Berzens McCoy defines it beautifully: "the capacity to let go of what doesn’t help me to love God or love others—while staying engaged with what does."

Let's be clear, forgiveness really only pertains to those instances when you have really and truly been wronged. Let's be equally clear, refusing to do the work forgiveness requires doesn't help you love God or others. My willingness and desire to forgive, even if I may not yet be able to fully do so, is what requires my engagement because it helps me love God and others.

In his address "On Forgiveness" published in the book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis summarizes what it means, in the words of Paul from our second reading, to "live for the Lord"- "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Year B Second Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5.9-11; Psalm 85:9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8 Despite being a short liturgical season, Advent has a twofold cha...