Sunday September 13

Gospel of Matthew 18:21–35

I say to you, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often must I forgive? 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 the fellow servant 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 or sister from your heart.”

Following on from last week’s Gospel where Jesus gave us instructions on how to build community through reconciliation, this week he invites us even deeper into relationship building.

In today’s Gospel he shows me what my heart  is capable of if I choose to allow God to work in it. 

Jesus invites me to realise that my loving God is ‘moved with compassion’ for me if I have intentionally or even unconsciously turned away from love. Jesus reminds me that forgiveness is a matter of the heart.

I recall how Mary Ward listened to her heart. 

“I experienced that He was very near to me, which I never perceived Him to be before. I saw Him evidently and very clearly go into my heart and by little and little hide Himself: He held my heart, I could not work.[1]

In this Gospel, I am struck by the vastness of God’s love, as Jesus tries to teach Peter by explaining that forgiveness is ultimately a work of God and that God’s capacity is too great to ever be counted or weighed. “I say to you not seven times but seventy-seven times.” 

Again, I recall that Mary Ward had intimate knowledge of the relationship between forgiveness and God. Mary was known for her love of her enemies. Here in 1619 we catch a glimpse of her heartfelt prayer asking for forgiveness.

 I lifted fearfully my eye up to God (I know not whether, by chance, or what else was my motive) but by this look I was made happy; in an instant I loved him, and was very sorry for all those sins, and besought him with love, and a few tears to forgive me them all, and everyone.”[2]

In my prayer, I take some time to be still and contemplate God loving me with compassion.

I take notice of what arises in my heart and I respond to God.

I resolve to deepen my relationships and take the path of reconciliation.

[1]  Mary Ward, Retreat Notes April 1619.

[2] Mary Ward, Retreat Notes April 1618