24 Sunday A: Forgiveness

Fr. Bill Grimm's Video Message at the bottom
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Gospel reading: Matthew 18:21-35

stewart and worker
Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments
Today’s passage deals with the crucial issue of forgiveness, surely the most pressing of all our human problems, as individuals, as communities and as a human family. The future of humanity is in the hands of those who can forgive.

It is important to understand Peter’s question correctly: it is not about being wronged many times (a situation which Jesus speaks about in Luke 17:4). Here, Peter is asking about one wrong. We are dealing then with a very deep hurt, the kind that remains with us for years and that we find ourselves having to forgive many times over. We think we have forgiven, but when we meet the person who hurt us we realise that we have to start forgiving all over again. This is the question then – how long do we continue with this struggle to forgive the one wrong?
king and stewartWe must think not merely of personal wrongs but of deep ethnic and racial wrongs, the kind that have nations torn by civil strife for generations – the human family knows so many of these at present.
As always, Jesus does not give us prescriptions; he invites us to enter into the God-like way of seeing things and leaves it to us to decide how we will act out of that consciousness.
Jesus’ response is in the form of a parable, and the key to interpreting his message correctly is to
understand how a parable is meant to be read. We are accustomed to learning (and teaching) through
“edifying stories.” In this kind of story the characters are either “good” or “bad”; we are meant to imitate the good ones and avoid being like the bad. It is always wrong to read a parable like that. We find that we identify one of the characters with God and end up with a strange God, one who tortures those who don’t forgive their enemies, burns the cities of those who do not accept his wedding invitation, closes the door on the bridesmaids who come late for the wedding feast, and so forth. Many Christians have developed warped ideas of God as a result of reading Jesus’ parables in this way.

A parable is an imaginative story which we enter with our feelings. We identify with the various characters as the story unfolds, until at a certain point it strikes us: “I know that feeling!” This is a
moment of truth, when we say, “I now understand grace and celebrate the times when I or others have lived it,” or “I now understand sin and experience a call to conversion.”
In this parable we see a man who is in a position of total helplessness; he is made to feel worthless, he has neither dignity nor freedom. His life, and that of his entire family, is in the hands of this king who makes him grovel before he will condescendingly set him free of his debts. He is not a bad man: he has been generous enough to lend money to someone who is in even greater need than he is, knowing full well that sooner or later he will have to return his own loan to the king.
peter QThe problem with him is that his spirit has been broken by oppression. Hardship has extinguished the spark of generosity. Experience tells us how frequently this happens. He has been made to feel so helpless and impotent that when he finds someone with even less power than himself he oppresses him in turn.
The king also is a victim of oppression. He breaks out of the oppressive world when he forgives his servant (even though we can detect some condescension), but it doesn’t last. The servant’s meanness defeats him, he takes back his generous spirit and becomes as mean as the servant. Very different from our God!
The parable then makes us reflect on oppression, understood quite correctly as being indebted. What a terrible thing oppression is! It keeps everyone in bondage – the oppressed and the oppressors alike. It isn’t God who keeps us in bondage, but we ourselves, and the parable tells us that we will continue in this bondage, “handed over to torturers”, unless someone makes a breakthrough and replaces meanness with generosity of spirit, the spirit of forgiveness, permanent and unconditional, “from our hearts.”
parablesWe can reflect on the movement of oppression/forgiveness at different levels – on the world stage, in our countries, within our families and neighborhoods, in our own hearts. In each case, we celebrate the people who have made the breakthrough.
In our own hearts: what unforgiven hurts still “torture” us? We recognise the bitterness which keeps us in bondage, consuming our energies, preventing us from enjoying life and being at peace with those around us. We remember the times when we were able to free ourselves, even if only temporarily, like the king.
Within families and communities: so often we are concerned mainly about punishing the offender. We celebrate today the peacemakers among us, those who work through mediation to re-establish harmony within the community.
Within nations, especially between ethnic groups, social classes, religions. We think of Northern Ireland, former Yugoslavia, the Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, the black community in the United States – the list can go on and on!
forgive themWe think of the debt of the third world countries, causing anger, resentment and civil strife. Indifference to the plight of those who are in debt keeps the whole human family in bondage.
Prayer Reflection
As we begin our prayer, let us listen to some of the prophetic voices of our time speaking of forgiveness to our modern world which is so much in need of it:
“The philosophy of retributive justice has brought nothing but chaos and widespread distress to families caught up in it. It has guaranteed a growing level of crime and has wasted millions of taxpayers’ money. We need to discover a philosophy that moves from punishment to reconciliation, from vengeance against offenders to healing for victims, from alienation to integration, from negativity and destructiveness to healing and forgiveness. Retributive justice always asks first: how do we punish the offender? Restorative justice asks: how do we restore the well-being of the victim, the community and the offender?” …. Vincent Travers, o.p. in Religious Life Review, Sept./Oct. 1995
Jesus Forgives us “The experience of forgiveness leads us to a radical understanding of the doctrine of Grace. We are saved, not by getting it right, but by the love that redeems us while we are getting it wrong.“…
Richard Holloway, Dancing on the Edge
– “There will come a day when the martyr will be made to stand before the throne of God in defense of his persecutors and say, ‘Lord, I have forgiven in thy name and by thy example. Thou hast no claim against them any more.'”…A Russian Orthodox bishop wrote these words as he went to his death in one of Stalin’s purges
“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill-will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to the judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be for their forgiveness.”
Prayer found in the clothing on the body of a dead child at Ravensbruck camp where 92,000 women and children died; in Mary Craig, “Take up your Cross,” The Way, Jan. 1973
“While waiting for the Kingdom, make the Kingdom. While waiting for righteousness and peace, practice righteousness and peace. You want a paradise of love?  Forgive.” …..Carlo Carretto, Summoned by Love
Lord,  we ask you to look with compassion on the many people in our world who are held in bondage because they cannot forgive from their hearts.
What they have suffered may seem trivial to us, a mere one hundred denarii, but they are handed over to torture
until they have paid their debt of forgiveness.
Pope Francis visiting the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere during a visit to the Sant'Egidio community in Rome
Pope Francis visiting the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere during a visit to the Sant’Egidio community in Rome
We thank you for the great people of our time who, like Jesus, work for the forgiveness of debts
– John Dear and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Washington, D.C.;
– the Sant Egidio Community in Rome;
– the Tallaght Community Mediation Scheme in Dublin;
– Archbishop Tutu and the Truth Tribunal in South Africa.
We thank you that these servants, following the way of Jesus,
are showing our contemporaries that unless they forgive from their hearts
you have no choice but to leave them and their communities in bondage.
We thank you for those who have taught our world forgiveness:
– spouses who welcomed back those who had been unfaithful;
– members of minority groups who work for racial harmony in their neighborhoods;
– devotees of traditional African religions in dialogue with the mainline churches;
– Nelson Mandela;
– Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.
We thank you that, unlike the king in Jesus’ parable,
they did not let themselves be turned aside from the path of forgiveness,
but forgave seventy-seven times.
Lord, have pity on the many countries that are being torn apart by traditional hatreds;
send them men and women who will show their compatriots
that unless they forgive from their hearts
they will be forever tortured by hatred and the desire for revenge.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

We often describe ourselves as ‘the People of God’ and as ‘a people set apart’; and very often such names have been misinterpreted by Christians to mean that we are somehow ‘God’s elite’ or that he has some special friendship for us and our doing that he does not show to others. Today’s gospel confronts us with the reality of what it means to be ‘a people set apart’. We are the ones who must reject the desires for vengeance and retaliation, and in the face of those who offend us must work for reconciliation. To start afresh, working for what is good, after one has been hurt is never easy; it goes against a deeply embedded instinct in our humanity that calls for retribution. But to be the group who seek to continue the reconciliation of the world that was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus is what we are about. Now, as we begin to celebrate this mystery, let us remind ourselves that as ‘a people set apart’ we must be willing to be those who bring forgiveness and new hope into the world. Let us ask ourselves whether we are willing to be reconcilers.

Homily notes
1. Reconciliation is a word that is bandied about in Christian discourse: we talk about it in relation to individual sinfulness; we talk about it in social situations of injustice; and we use it as the name of one of the sacraments: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We use the word so often that it can become just a synonym for repentance, penance, the process of ‘getting rid of sin’, offering forgiveness, or a process for rebuilding harmony in society. It is all of these things, but it is also one of the key words by which we can understand
(1) the role of the Christ in relation to church,
(2) the role of the Christian body towards the larger society, and
(3) the one of the central Christian attitudes towards life and how it should be lived.
This sculpture is called 'Reconciliation'. It is in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral in England
This sculpture is called ‘Reconciliation’. It is in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral in England
2. It is easiest to begin by sketching the habit of being reconciliatory, being someone with the attitude of wanting reconciliation. It is worth noting the exact implications of Peter’s question of Jesus: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ There is no hint in the text that this brother has come and asked for forgiveness. This is not a mutual process. The forgiveness in question is a unilateral act by the one who has been sinned against. Someone has been offended/ attacked; that person now wants to forgive the offender without any hint of the offender seeking forgiveness or showing an awareness of their crime or showing contrition. The question is how often is this attitude of offering forgiveness unilaterally and unconditionally to last? Is it a one-off event, something that should be given a good trial (let’s say ‘seven times’) or something that must be on-going (‘seventy-times seven’)? The Christian position is made abundantly clear.
But what is this attitude? The forgiveness in question consists in continuing to seek the way that builds up peace with those who offend one, rather than seeking either to get revenge for their offences or seeking to write them out of the script of one’s own plans for right acting. The Christian must act rightly, despite how others behave, even when that behaviour is directed against them. Reconciliation is the peace&justicesteady willingness to build the universe aright in spite of, and in the aftermath of, those who would break down peace and goodness between people, or between people and the environment. One must not only seek to stop damage to individuals, society, the environment, but one must always be ready to start over, repair damage, and begin again. This beginning afresh, rather than pursuing a vendetta or engaging in recriminations, is at the heart of reconciliation.
3. The task of the Christian body, the church, is to act as an agent for reconciliation in a human situation where, after any offence has been felt, our instincts and’ gut reaction’ is to find the culprit, extract redress (sometimes we are honest and openly call this ‘vengeance’ and admit that we like the idea of ‘getting our own back’; sometimes we opt for spin and speak of ‘restoring the status quo’ or of ‘condign justice’), and then have an extended period during which the offender suffers the effects of their crime whether this is imprisonment, isolation, being given the cold shoulder, or some other kind of exclusion. However, reconciliation is focused not upon redress, but upon getting back on track, repairing the damage, and starting afresh. The past is past; we must get on with building the kingdom of justice, love, and peace. If we look back it is only to learn lessons, not to engage in the activity of retribution. This is a very different view of the way humans should act to that which most societies have pursued either now or in the past.
if u want peaceThe church is the minister of reconciliation whose vocation it is to work to repair the damage done within the creation, material and human, from evil choices. And this ministry cannot be confused with wagging fingers at problems nor naming sins, nor should it be reduced to the individual reconciliation of penitents, (viewed in terms of an individual’s relationship with God). This working for reconciliation is part of the priesthood of the whole people of God.
Wherever there is division, corruption, suffering or disruption in the order of things, there is a task of reconciliation to be addressed; and Christians make the claim that they are willing to adopt this task as their own. In a world where the pursuit of vengeance keeps conflicts running and multiplies the amount of suffering and misery, Christians are supposed to be taking a different tack.
RepentantSinner4. Reconciliation is also a way of understanding the Christ­event: God in Jesus was reconciling the world to himself. The pattern for all Christian reconciliation is the way the Father has offered a new beginning to the creation in the Last Adam. This use of reconciliation as an overarching theme for the whole of the gospel is captured in the opening statement of the current formula of sacramental absolution: ‘God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. The Father allows us to begin afresh and to then grow to the fullness of life; we rejoice in this as the joy of faith. We must allow those who have harmed us/ our creation to start afresh and help
them grow to the fullness of life; we accept this as the challenge of the life of faith.
5. Perhaps we are now in a better position to appreciate the wisdom of Ben Sira: the homily could conclude by reading the first reading again as its various messages (e.g. ‘stop hating’) should now fit into a larger framework.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

Why was Jesus so insistent about the practice of forgiveness in the lives of his disciples? Peter was probably embarrassed by Jesus’ answer to his question ‘How often must I forgive?’ Jesus told Peter to be far more forgiving than he was suggesting. Peter must forgive seventy-seven times, not seven times.
In saying this, Jesus was not implying that forgiveness could be refused on the seventy-eighth and subsequent occasions. For Jesus, there could be no limit to the number of times people would forgive. Forgiveness was to be a continuous activity and one of the central characteristics of the Christian lifestyle.
So why was Jesus so adamant that his listeners would understand how his message of forgiveness was central to his teaching and preaching? Was it because he wanted to be excessively demanding? Or was it because he knew that forgiveness was among the most difficult challenges for human beings?
Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-EU protesters and police lines in central Kyiv, Jan. 24, 2014.
Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-EU protesters and police lines in central Kyiv, Jan. 24, 2014.
It would have been easier for most of Jesus’ disciples to be unforgiving because they had direct experience of oppression and injustice from the Romans, who were occupying their country, and from the tax collectors, moneylenders and religion leaders. Did Jesus want to raise the standards and expectation beyond their capabilities? The answer to these questions is ar emphatic ‘No’.
Jesus was uncompromising about the centrality of forgiveness because he understood human nature completely. He knew that if people would not forgive one another, and if they could not graciously accept forgiveness from other people when it was offered, then they would be unable to experience God’s forgiveness. Jesus appreciated that the human spirit yearns for acceptance, sympathy, respect, companionship and a sense of belonging. None of these is possible in the absence of forgiveness.
Practising forgiveness, therefore, enables us to realise these yearnings. Our greatest gift from God — the ability to love — is dependent on our ability to forgive. Forgiveness brings healing. If there is no forgiveness in our lives, then our human nature becomes flawed. We feel isolated. We become less than human and, eventually, our dignity and sense of self-worth diminish. Our innate beauty derived from being made in the image and likeness of God is shattered. There is a diminution of the quality of human life and living.
Jesus always forgave
Jesus always forgave
When, as repentant people, we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation properly (that is, we confess our sins, make reparation for our wrongdoing and resolve not to commit these sins again) we are assured that our sins are forgiven and that we will have God’s help to avoid sin in the future. We all need to experience forgiveness in our lives. The sacrament of reconciliation enables us to receive God’s forgiveness for our sins. We become whole human beings again, capable of tremendous love and sacrifice. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus insisted on forgiveness among his followers?

For meditation
And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart. (Mt 18:34-35)
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Fr Donal Neary, S.J
Forgiveness
We are called to forgive; and that can be really difficult. You have been defrauded by the banks of your life’s savings – can you forgive? You were abused as a child – can you forgive? You were done out of a job because another lied to get it – can you forgive? The answer is maybe ‘no’. What then does God want? He asks us to open our hearts to the other so that we may forgive. Forgive­ness is the deepest of God’s desires on our behalf, and he hopes that we can forgive each other.
Our hurts and burdens are heavy to carry through life. To for­give can release some of that weight. The person who hurt us may be dead, or may not even know (or care) that we are hurt­ing. When we desire to forgive but don’t know how, one way of looking for this strength is to pray for it. We often pray, ‘Lord, make my heart like yours’. When we pray that we are praying to be forgiving people!
Another way is to pray for the person. When we realise that as God loves me, he also loves everyone, we may find a spark or light of forgiveness in our souls.
Out of this we may find the will to meet the other and talk to him or her, and find the grace of forgiveness between us.
Forgiveness sometimes comes slowly. When God sees us want­ing to be on the road to forgiveness, he gives us the graces we need to unburden ourselves and be able to love like him.
Sit in silence for a while, and send a blessing or prayer
to someone you need to forgive.
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From The Connections:

THE WORD:
The cutting edge of Jesus’ teaching on love is that nothing is unforgivable nor should there be limits to forgiveness. 
It is ironic that Peter should ask the question about forgiveness that introduces the parable of the merciless steward, since Peter himself will be so generously forgiven by Jesus for his denial of Jesus on Good Friday.  It was common rabbinical teaching that one must forgive another three times; the fourth time, the offender was not to be forgiven.  Perhaps Peter was anticipating Jesus’ response to his question by suggesting seven rather than the conventional three times; but Jesus responds that there should be no limit to the number of times we must be ready to forgive those who wrong us (“seventy times seven times”), just as there is no limit to the Father’s forgiveness of us. 
As the king in the parable withdraws his forgiveness of his servant because of the servant’s failure to forgive another, so will God withdraw his forgiveness of the unforgiving and merciless among us.  God's forgiveness is not entirely unconditional: if we do not share it, we will lose it.

HOMILY POINTS:
Forgiveness can only be given out of love and, therefore, demands sacrifice on the part of the forgiver.  To forgive as God forgives means to intentionally act to purge the evil that exists between us and those who harm us, to take the first, second and last steps toward bridging divisions, to work ceaselessly to mend broken relationships and to welcome and accept the forgiven back into our lives unconditionally, totally and joyfully. 
Forgiveness begins with empathy: being able to see a situation from the perspective of the other.  As the story of the unforgiving servant makes clear, such empathy is not easy: it means overcoming our own anger and outrage at the hurt we have suffered and focusing our concern, instead, on the person who wronged us; such empathy means possessing the humility to face the hurt we have inflicted on others as a result of our insensitivity and self-centeredness.  
Before our merciful Father in heaven, every one of us is an insolvent debtor – but the great mystery of our faith is that God continues to love us, continues to call us back to him, continues to seek not retribution but reconciliation with us.  All God asks of us is that we forgive one another as he forgives us, to help one another back up when we stumble just as God lifts us back up.
The Risen Christ calls us to seek reconciliation that transforms and re-creates: forgiveness that is joyfully offered and humbly but confidently sought; forgiveness that transforms the estranged and separated into family and community; forgiveness that overcomes our own anger and outrage at the injustice waged against us and focuses on healing the relationship with the person who wronged us and ruptured that relationship.  Christ-like reconciliation also means possessing the humility to face the hurt we have inflicted on others as a result of our insensitivity and self-centeredness.
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ILLUSTRATIONS:

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading Sirach insists that anger and resentment are hateful things. He also admonishes us to show mercy towards others, since we look to God to have mercy for ourselves. If we hold on to resentment and anger against others who have hurt us, how can we demand compassion from God? And if we show no pity for a fellow human being, how can we plead for pity for ourselves? We make it difficult for ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness if we do not want to forgive.

Don’t wait”
Too many people take too much unfinished relational business to their graves. A man on his deathbed told the following story. “I had a very good friend called Bob. But he and his wife moved to another country. A little while later, my wife, Charlotte, had to have a very severe operation. Bob and his wife never got in touch with us. I know they knew about it. I was very hurt because they never called to see her or ever enquire about how she was. So I dropped the relationship. Over the years I met Bob a few times and he always tried to reconcile, but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. I was prideful. I shrugged him off. A few years later he died of cancer. I feel so sad. I never got to see him. I never got to forgive him. It pains me so much. My advice is: don’t wait.”
Flor McCarthy in “New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies”

This Sunday’s parable of the ‘unforgiving servant’ is only found in the gospel of Matthew and is intended to be a moral exhortation for the Church on the need for forgiveness. To Peter’s question: “How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? Seven times?” In the Bible, seven indicates completeness; and yet Jesus goes far beyond by replying: “Not seven but seventy times seven!” Implying that there is no limit to forgiveness because God’s love is a forgiving love. The position of the servant in Jesus’ story is absolutely hopeless. He owes the king so much money that even if he worked forever, he would not be able to repay him. This is the strong point of the story. All he can do is plead for forgiveness. Our situation before God is similar to that of the servant. We can’t win God’s forgiveness. All we can do is plead for it. But God is generous with his forgiveness. We then must be willing to extend to others the forgiveness God has extended to us. To refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us would be to exclude ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness for our own sins.  This has a real application in Church life. The thing that is most likely to turn people away from the Church is when they don’t find forgiveness there. Forgiveness is never easy, it is difficult but not impossible. Resentment and bitterness are dangerous things and we can’t be healed of them unless we forgive. To forgive is, first and foremost a duty we owe to ourselves. We forgive for the sake of our wellbeing. We forgive to cleanse ourselves and to receive God’s forgiveness and become instruments of His peace for others. Forgiveness is one of the highest and most beautiful forms of love. It is a holy task. Only God can help us to accomplish it fully.

“I give you the power to forgive”
Think, for example, the case of Timothy McVeigh, who admitted to the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma for which he showed no remorse. The evening before he was executed, various survivors and relatives of survivors were interviewed. I was struck with the sense that those who thought that his execution was going to bring them a sense of closure and peace were deceiving themselves. Far more reasonable was the ‘unreasonableness’ of a father whose daughter was killed in the disaster. He had already come to peace and closure. He had found the grace to let it go and believed that Timothy McVeigh should not suffer the death penalty. For this grieving father, even McVeigh’s life sentence was not to punish him, but to give him a chance, perhaps gradually, slowly to see the light and repent of his crime. He remarked that he and his family had no more energy for grievance and retribution. They had to go on living and wanted McVeigh to have the same chance.
John Pichappilly in “The Table of the Word”

Bridging the Gap

Even before the six-day war, Israel and Jordan had been mutual enemies. But in the summer of 1994 King Hussain of Jordan and the late President Rabin of Israel signed a peace accord. They said they did so that their children would not need to fight any more. To prepare the way for the signing of the peace treaty, Israel’s foreign minister, Simon Peres, crossed the Dead Sea by helicopter to end nearly half century of enmity. He was the first high-ranking official from Israel to openly visit Jordan. He said, ‘It took us a mere 15 minute to ride over. But it took us 46 years to arrive at this time and this place of peace and promise.’ On signing the treaty King Hossain said, “Out of all the days of my life, I don’t believe there is one such as this.” Peace is a process. So too is reconciliation. They both take time.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday Holy Days and Liturgies’

An Interrupted Life

The book ‘An Interrupted Life’ is a beautiful testament of a Dutch Jewess, Etty Hillesum, who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. Despite the sufferings she underwent she wrote: “it’s too easy to turn your hatred on the outside, to live for nothing but the moment of revenge…. Despite all the suffering and injustice, I cannot hate others.” She forgave her tormentors because of her communion with a compassionate God.
Francis Gonsalves in “Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds”

Asking for forgiveness
Once in Poland an elderly rabbi boarded a train to travel home to Warsaw. He entered a compartment in which three salesmen were playing cards. In need of a foursome, the salesmen asked the rabbi to join in, but he politely refused, saying he had been too busy the whole day and needed to catch up on his prayers, and that in any case he didn’t play cards. They tried to persuade him, but he still refused. At this they got very hostile and started to abuse him. When he still refused, they threw him out of the compartment, so that he had to stand in the corridor for the rest of the journey. On arriving at Warsaw the rabbi got off the train. So did the salesmen. The rabbi was met by a large crowd of his followers. On seeing this one of the salesmen asked, “Who is that man?” “That’s Rabbi Solomon, the most revered rabbi in the whole of Poland,” came the answer. On hearing this the man regretted what he had done. He had no idea who he had offended. So he quickly went to the rabbi and asked for forgiveness. However, the rabbi refused to forgive him. The rabbi’s followers were taken aback at this. They could not figure out how their rabbi, a man renowned for gentleness and holiness, could refuse to forgive someone. So they asked him, “When someone who has offended us asks for forgiveness, should we forgive him?” “Yes,” the rabbi replied. “Well then, why didn’t you forgive that man?” “I can’t for him. The salesman didn’t offend me, the chief priest of Warsaw. He offended a common man. Let him go to him and ask for forgiveness.” In other words, he was asking for forgiveness only because he had offended a famous person. But had it been just an ordinary person that he had offended, it would never have occurred to him to ask for forgiveness. – Fortunately, in our communities there are many who are willing to forgive others. But alas, there are very few who are willing to ask and seek forgiveness from others.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday Holy days and Liturgies’

It is in forgiving that we ourselves are forgiven
Once, two prisoners shared the same cell. A dank, dark cell it was. One of them was a strong cruel individual. The other was gentle and timid. The prisoners were hand-cuffed to one another. The strong man was mean and cruel to the timid man. One day, while his companion was asleep the timid man found the key to the cell. He desperately wanted to get away from this horrible cell. But at the same time he did not wish to do any favours to his obnoxious companion. However, he soon realized he could not set himself free unless he also set his companion free. –It is like two people living in the same room, one of whom closes the blind because he doesn’t want the other to enjoy the sunlight. But in doing so he also deprives himself of the sunlight.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday Holy days and Liturgies’

God’s fore-giving love
Perugini, an Italian painter of the Middle Ages, stopped going for confession because he felt that people stayed sway from the sacrament hoping to confess just before they died as a kind of ticket to heaven. Perugini considered it sacrilegious to go to confession if, out of fear, he were seeking to save his skin. Not knowing his inner disposition, his wife inquired whether he was not afraid of dying unconfessed.  Perugini replied, “Darling, my job is to paint and I have excelled as a painter. God’s profession is to forgive and if God is as good at his job as I’ve been at mine, I’ve no reason to be afraid!”
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds


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From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned."  

Three decades ago (1981) there was an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived. After he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison on Christmas day to see the man who had attempted to assassinate him. Millions watched on television as the Pope, on Christmas day, visited with Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two years before had tried to assassinate him. The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. When he emerged John Paul explained, "I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned." We will never forget the headline the next week in Time Magazine, "Why forgive?" That is a good question, one that has been asked for centuries. Today’s readings give the reasons. Three months after the terrible attack of September 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II, in his message for the annual World Day for Peace, taught clearly that there can be no peace without justice, and there can be no justice without forgiveness. That’s a message that has gone largely unheard and unheeded on all sides of today’s conflicts. It’s kind of like what Chesterton said about Christianity itself – it hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried. 

2) Adopt an orphaned Muslim child and raise him as a Muslim in your Hindu family.  

In the motion picture of the life of Gandhi there, is a scene in which a Hindu father whose child has been killed by a Muslim comes to Gandhi in great grief and remorse. Out of a sense of retribution he has killed a Muslim child. He now kneels before Gandhi asking how he can get over his guilt and regret. Gandhi, who is gravely ill, tells the man that he must go and adopt a boy and raise him as his very own son. That request seems reasonable but then comes a requirement: In order to find inner peace, the Hindu man must raise the boy to be a Muslim. Overwhelmed at the inconceivable thought of raising a son as a Muslim, the man leaves Gandhi's room in total disarray. Later, however, he returns and again kneels beside Gandhi's bed. He now understands. He must take the hostility from his heart and replace it with love. That kind of forgiveness is more than passive resignation to a bad situation. By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world.
 
3) "Now Abraham Lincoln belongs to the ages."  

In his sermon "Loving Your Enemies," Martin Luther King, Jr., described an event from history: When Abraham Lincoln was running for the presidency of the United States, there was a man who ran all around the country speaking ill of Lincoln. He said a lot of unkind things. "You don’t want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this as the president of the United States!" However, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. When the time came for him to choose the Secretary of War, he looked across the nation, and decided to choose a man by the name of Mr. Stanton. When the president made this proposal before his advisors, they were surprised: "Mr. Lincoln,” the senior adviser said, “Are you a fool? Do you know what Mr. Stanton has been saying about you? Did you read all of those derogatory statements that he made about you?" Abraham Lincoln stood before the advisors around him and said: "Oh yeah. I know about it; I read about it; I’ve heard him myself. But after looking over the country, I find that he is the best man for the job." Mr. Stanton did become the Secretary of War. Later, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, one of the greatest statements ever made about him was by this man Mr. Stanton. After describing the nobility of the president, his spirit of unconditional forgiveness and the integrity of his character in superlatives, Stanton emphatically added, "Now Abraham Lincoln belongs to the ages." If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, and acted accordingly, Stanton might well have gone to his grave hating Lincoln and Lincoln might have gone to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of Abraham Lincoln’s forgiving love, God was able to redeem Stanton.

Additional Anecdotes:

1) "Richard, I want you to know that I love you and I forgive you."
 
Before her death, Judy Lawson became the spiritual Mother of scores of hardened criminals. On her last Mother’s Day, according to Bill Myers, she received 40 Mother’s Day cards from former criminals whose lives she touched. Her prison ministry began eighteen months after her son was brutally murdered. She knew it was God’s will for her to forgive the murderer, and she had spoken the words, but she continued to harbor ill will toward the man who had robbed her of her son. She had agreed to never say "no" to God, so when she heard Him saying, "I want you to love the man who killed your son," she had no choice but to fight the natural rage boiling up and to practice Christian love and forgiveness. While visiting a prison to support a friend at a parole hearing, she came face-to-face with the murderer. Controlling her inner struggle in faith, she spoke to the man. "Richard," she said, "my name is Judy Lawson--you murdered my son and I want you to know that I love you and I forgive you." The man began sobbing and the prison guards had to remove her from the facility. She sent the murderer letters. He sent them back. But she continued to write. Her family said, “Stop.” Her pastor said, “Stop.” But her God said, “Continue.” Soon, God’s grace broke through and the vicious killer and the victim reconciled and began a ministry together with Judy proclaiming grace and forgiveness to inmates. 

2) Unforgiven sins according to Dostoevsky and Shakespeare:
 
Dostoevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment deals with unforgiven sin. The novel is little more than the tale of a young, Fascist, poor student who murders a rich, old lady so he can get her money and continue his studies. But the student, hounded by guilt, pursued by his sins, finally confesses his crimes and is punished. Eloquently, so eloquently, Dostoevsky shows us what the real world is really like, a world where sin comes due like all debts and must be paid in full as the creditor comes calling us to account. The same is true of Shakespeare's play Macbeth. A man is killed so Macbeth can usurp the crown, and Lady Macbeth, tormented by her part in the murderous sin, is driven to insanity. She pitifully raises her hands imagining them still to be stained with blood, and frets, "Will these hands ne'er be clean?" Can't we identify with Dostoevsky’s and Shakespeare's characters? We are sinners as they were. Some of us owe a lot. Some are sin-indebted a little. But each of us, like the debtors in the gospel text, must settle accounts with the king, God Almighty himself. Forgiveness Is Available.

3) Loose cannon inside the ship in storm:
 
French author Victor Hugo has a short story titled, "93." In the midst of this tale a ship at sea is caught in a terrific storm. Buffeted by the waves, the ship rocks to and fro, when suddenly the crew hears an awesome crashing sound below deck. They know what it is. A cannon they are carrying has broken loose and is smashing into the ship's sides with every list of the ship. Two brave sailors, at the risk of their lives, manage to go below and fasten it again, for they know that the heavy cannon on the inside of their ship is more dangerous to them than the storm on the outside. So it is with people. Problems within are often much more destructive to us than the problems without. Today, God's word would take us "below decks" to look inside ourselves concerning the whole matter of forgiveness. 

4) “ Why don’t people forgive?”
 
You may remember Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick. The most prominent character is the cruel, obsessive, vengeful Captain Ahab, skipper of the ship. He hates Moby Dick, the great white whale, with a terrible passion. Every waking hour is consumed with the question of how to destroy this leviathan that has crippled him. Soon we see that it is not Moby Dick that is the victim of Captain Ahab's hatred but Ahab himself. In his obsession he kills everything around him – the whale, the crew and finally himself. How could anyone let rage get so out of control? Why do we find it so hard to forgive? Obviously the first answer is that the pain is too deep. 

5) “I left my anger and regret at the gates of that prison.”
 
Pete Peterson was appointed U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in the late 1990s. Long before that, however, Peterson had served six years as a prisoner of war in the dreaded “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. He endured unspeakable brutality, starvation, and torture at the hands of his captures. They robbed him of six years of his life he will never get back. Never. And when asked how he could return to this land as an ambassador, he replied, “I left my anger and regret at the gates of that prison when I walked out in 1972. I just left it behind me and decided to move forward with my life.” (Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Live in the Present, Find Your Future by Dr. Les Parrott, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).) “How many times may my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” asked Peter. “As many as seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” 

6) “It’s a list of people I plan on biting before I die.”
 
A man was bitten by a dog. Later it was discovered that the dog had rabies. This was back when there was no cure for rabies. His doctor brought him the bad news. “Everything possible will be done to make you comfortable,” he said, “but we can’t offer any false hope. My best advice to you is to put your affairs in order as soon as possible.” The man very calmly got out a piece of paper and began furiously writing. The doctor said: "What are you doing, making out your will?" He said: "Oh no, I'm writing out a list of people I'm going to bite." Our subject today is forgiveness. How many times must I forgive someone who has hurt me, abused me, exploited me? That is Simon Peter’s question. How many times? Would seven times be enough? 

7) “I use your toothbrush!”
 
A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?”

The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.”
The husband asked: “How does that help?”
She said: “I use your toothbrush!” 

8) General Patton learned to forgive:
 
They said that World War II military hero George Patton couldn’t or wouldn’t control his temper as a young officer. Patton once ordered a mule shot. Why? It had gotten in the way of his jeep. He forced members of an antiaircraft unit to stand at attention for being sloppily dressed, despite the fact that they had just beaten off an attack, and some of the men were wounded. In one notorious incident, he slapped a hospitalized, shell-shocked soldier, and denounced the man for being a coward. Patton’s commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, did not believe that Patton lacked self-control, only that he was refusing to practice it. He ordered Patton to publicly apologize for slapping the soldier, put Patton on probation, and postponed his promotion to general. Notice this: after this reprimand by Eisenhower, there were no more reports that Patton committed acts of emotional or physical abuse during the two remaining years of World War II. In other words, Patton could control himself when motivated to do so. (Joseph Telushkin, The Ten Commandments of Character (New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2003), pp. 37-38.)

9) Forgiveness extended to the wife of the murderer of President Kennedy:
 
A couple of days after President Kennedy was tragically gunned down in Dallas, Texas, a Presbyterian church from the state of Michigan wrote to the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. They had heard that she wished to stay in America and learn the English language. They took it upon themselves to write to her and invite her to come to their community with the promise of finding her a home that she might get a fresh start on a productive life. Unfortunately, many persons both in the local community and from around the nation got wind of this plan and began writing many critical letters about their offer to this widow. One person probably described the situation most correctly when she said, "I never heard of a church doing anything like this before." She knew that forgiveness is not often found even in a group of believers who could probably best be called and known as "sinners anonymous." Forgiveness is so hard. Forgiveness is very difficult unless we follow the example of Christ. 

10) "No, that man was my deadly enemy."
 
During the Revolutionary War, at the town of Ephrata there lived a very reputable and highly respectable citizen who had suffered an injury from a worthless and vile man in their town. This wicked man enlisted in the army, and there lived up to his evil record in civil life. Presently he was arrested for a serious offense, convicted by a court martial and sentenced to be hanged. The news of the sentence got back to Ephrata. Then that citizen whom this convicted man had wronged set out for the army, walking all the way to Philadelphia and beyond. When he found his way to President Washington's headquarters, he pleaded for the life of this convicted man. Washington heard him through and then said he was sorry, but he could not grant the request. But seeing the disappointment in the man's face when he turned to go, Washington said, "Are you a relative of this man?" The man said, "No." "Then," said Washington, "are you his friend?" "No, that man was my deadly enemy." Nothing that we must forget and forgive and let go is even remotely close to what God has had to overlook and forgive in us. 

11) Hostility index and death rate:
 
There was an interesting study conducted by the Gallup Organization and reported in 1994. In this study, Philadelphia ranked first among U.S. cities on what was called the "hostility index." The hostility index was based on a nine-question scale that asked people how they felt about such things as loud rock music, supermarket checkout lines, and traffic jams. Other cities on the hostility top five were New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit. Perhaps you saw in the newspapers just a few months ago that New York City has a much higher death rate than average from coronary disease. At the bottom of the hostility index were Des Moines, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, and Honolulu. Medical experts looking at the results felt it was no coincidence that the cities that rated high on the hostility index also had higher death rates. Commenting on the study, Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University Medical School said, "Anger kills. There is a strong correlation between hostility and death rates. The angrier people are and the more cynical they are, the shorter their life span." (Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers. Craig Brian Larson, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), p. 17.) Dr. Robert R. Kopp puts it this way: grudge-holders are grave-diggers and the only graves that they dig are their own. Or as John Huffman once said, "The world's most miserable person is one who won't forgive. 

12) "But how can I keep the sun from going down?"
 
Richard W. DeHaan tells the story of a little boy who had a fight with his brother. As the day passed, he refused to speak to his brother. At bedtime, their mother said, "Don't you think you should forgive your brother before you go to sleep? The Bible says we should not let the sun go down on our wrath." After some perplexed reflection, the boy replied, "But how can I keep the sun from going down?" (Herb Miller, Actions Speak Louder than Verbs (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989). We can all appreciate what he is saying, but the truth is that nurtured resentment hurts most the one who nurtures it. 

13) “Perhaps, you would prefer after all to take the money?”
 
There is a story about a judge in a middle-eastern country who was trying to resolve a difficult case. The wife of a deceased man was asking for the death sentence to be imposed upon the man who had killed her husband. It seems that while he was in a tree gathering dates, the man had fallen upon the woman’s husband and fatally injured him.
“Was the fall intentional?” the judge inquired. “Were these men enemies?”
“No,” the woman replied. “Even so,” she said, “I want my revenge.”
Despite the judge’s repeated attempts to dissuade her, the widow demanded the blood price to which the law entitled her. The judge even suggested that a sum of money would serve her better than vengeance. No dice. “It is your right to seek compensation,” the judge finally declared, “and it is your right to ask for this man’s life. And it is my right,” he continued, “to decree how he shall die. And so,” the judge declared, “you shall take this man with you immediately. He shall be tied to the foot of a palm tree; and you shall climb to the top of the tree and throw yourself down upon him from a great height. In this way you will take his life as he took your husband’s.” Only silence met the judge’s decree. Then the judge spoke: “Perhaps,” he said, “you would prefer after all to take the money?” She did. (http://www.dbcity.com/churches/res/01-08-06.htm). 

14) "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ballplayer Muffed Fly in 1912."
 
Fred Snodgrass was a successful baseball player for the Giants, but he was remembered for one of his failures. In the 1912 World Series, he dropped a pop fly. His error set up the winning run, for the next batter hit a single. Consequently, the Giants lost the game and the Series. When he died in 1974, the New York Times printed this headline: "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ballplayer Muffed Fly in 1912." Sixty-two years later, and yet they could not forget his mistake. Never mind the fact that Fred later became mayor of the city of Oxnard, California, was a successful banker and rancher and raised a fine family. He dropped a pop-up in the 1912 series, and they couldn't forget his mistake. How different from Christ who not only forgets our mistakes but forgives them! Forgiveness is not easy; but it is always the will of God. 

15) "I went and sowed seed in my enemy's field that God might exist."
 
The Norwegian writer Johan Bojer, in The Great Hunger, tells of a man whose little child was killed by a neighbor's dog. Revenge would not long satisfy this man, so he found a better way to relieve the agony of his heart. When a famine had plagued the people and his neighbor's fields lay bare and he had no corn to plant for next year's harvest, the troubled father went out one night and sowed the neighbor's field, explaining: "I went and sowed seed in my enemy's field that God might exist." 

16) "You know that it is in my power to pardon you?"
 
A captive was once brought before King James II of England. The King chided the prisoner: "You know that it is in my power to pardon you?" The scared, shaking prisoner replied, "Yes, I know it is in your power to pardon me, but it is not in your nature." The prisoner had keen insight to know that unless we have had a spiritual rebirth we have no nature to forgive. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that it is both in the power and the nature of Jesus to forgive and to pardon. Yes, Jesus doesn't forgive the sin as much as he forgives us.

17) They had been praying for him all night.
 
Ron Lee Davis, in his book, A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World, tells about a moment when God's remarkable spirit of forgiveness became real to him. His best friend Jim had been hit and killed while out riding a motorcycle. The driver of the car, Mr. Smith, simply hadn't seen Jim in time and had plowed right into him. As Ron drove to visit Jim's parents, he struggled with anger against Mr. Smith. He was amazed to discover, however, that Jim's family felt only compassion for the man who had accidentally killed their son. In fact, the first question they asked when Ron walked through the door was, "Do you know how Mr. Smith is doing?" They had been praying for him all night. (Ron Lee Davis, A Forgiving God in and Unforgiving World, p.13. Used in "In His Own Words: Your Sins Are Forgiven" by C. Thomas Hilton, The Clergy Journal, October 1998, p. 30). There are people like that in this world. They forgive those who have done them wrong. They are called Christians. 

18) War of the Roses :
 
In a real life parallel to the movie War of the Roses, a couple waged a battle of mayhem. It all began when the husband canceled one vacation trip too many for his wife. She expressed her disappointment by pouring bicarbonate of soda into the fish tank, wiping out his rare tropical fish. A long argument followed. Finally, he grabbed a selection of his wife's diamond jewelry and threw it into the garbage disposal. She responded by flinging all his stereo equipment into the swimming pool. He then doused her $200,000 wardrobe - fur coats, designer gowns and all - with liquid bleach. Then things began to go downhill. She poured a gallon of paint all over his $70,000 Ferrari. So he kicked a hole in a $180,000 Picasso original she loved. She had just opened the sea cocks of his 38 foot yacht, causing it to sink at its dock, when the couple's daughter came home and saw what had been going on. She called the police. They were powerless to do anything. It was not illegal for the couple to destroy their own property. Eventually the family lawyer managed to arrange a truce. [William A. Marsano, Man Suffocated by Potatoes, New York: New American Library, 1987). Unhappy marriages probably produce the largest number of houses of spite. Divorce doesn't help. A recent survey showed that many divorced couples still feel rejected a decade after the breakup. Though they marry again, they stay angry and bitter. Forty-one percent of the remarried woman were still furious at their first husbands a decade later. Thirty-one percent of the men felt the same. How do we let it go? How do we keep our resentment and anger from destroying us? Simon Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother? Seven times?" That is certainly a relevant question.  

19) "The Woman Who Beat The Ku Klux Klan."
 
Beulah Mae McDonald is a black woman who has earned a reputation as "The Woman Who Beat the Ku Klux Klan." On March 21, 1981, Mrs. McDonald had a dream in which she saw a steel-gray casket sitting in her living room. Every time she tried to move closer to the casket, someone told her, "You don't need to see this." But Mrs. McDonald knew that she did have to see it. And when she awoke from her dream, the first thing she did was to look in the other bedroom where her youngest son Michael was supposed to be sleeping. He was not there. When the boy didn't come home the next morning, Mrs. McDonald knew that something was wrong. The phone rang. The caller said, "They had a party here, and they killed your son. You better send somebody over." A few blocks away, in a racially mixed neighborhood, about a mile from the Mobile, Alabama, police station, they found Michael McDonald's body hanging from a tree. Around his neck was a perfectly tied noose with 13 loops. On a front porch across the street, watching police gather evidence were members of the United Klans of America, one of the largest and most violent of the Ku Klux Klans. Looking across the street, Bennie Jack Hays, the 64-year-old Titan of the United Klans, said, "A pretty sight. That's gonna look good on the news. Gonna look good for the Klan." The men who killed Beulah Mae McDonald's son thought they would go free. But they were wrong. Not only did the young black man's killer receive the death penalty, but Mrs. McDonald won a seven-million dollar lawsuit which broke the back of this hate group which is driven by the power of Satan. Mrs. McDonald was a single mother who had to raise her children alone and in poverty. She says this about raising her children: "I wasn't able to get everything for them, but I let them know the value of things." Her method of childrearing was that of love and religion. On Sunday morning, Mrs. McDonald would take her family to church in the morning and remain there all day. "I'm a strong believer," she explains. "I don't know about man, but I know what God can do." It was the power of God that enabled Beulah Mae to do that which would have been impossible for an unbeliever. Her faith in God enabled her to forgive even those who had murdered her son. At the civil trial, one of the Klansmen implicated in the crime named Tiger Knowles turned to Mrs. McDonald. They locked eyes for the first time. Knowles spoke of the seven million dollars which he and the others were going to have to pay as the consequence of their crime. "I can't bring your son back," he said sobbing and shaking. "God knows if I could trade places with him, I would. I can't. Whatever it takes -- I have nothing. But I will have to do it. And if it takes me the rest of my life to pay for it, any comfort it may bring, I hope it will." By this time, the jurors were crying. The judge had tears in his eyes. Then Beulah Mae McDonald said these words: "I do forgive you. From the day I found out who you all was, I asked God to take care of y'all, and he has." Who among us could show that kind of forgiveness? The answer is that none of us could ever do it without faith in God. ("The Woman Who Beat the Klan," New York Times Magazine, November 1, 1987, pp. 26-39). (L/2011)

Jokes

1) A woman testified to the transformation in her life that had resulted through her experience in conversion. She declared, "I’m so glad I got religion. I have an uncle I used to hate so much that I vowed I’d never go to his funeral. But now, why, I’d be happy to go to it any time."

2) In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, Janey Walser wrote these words: “I once worked in a grocery store and often assisted elderly people when they came in. One woman shopped nearly every day, asking for just a few items each time. After a month, she said to me, "I suppose you wonder why I’m here so often. You see, I live with my nephew. I can’t stand him, and I am not going to die and leave him with a refrigerator full of food."

3) Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as their mother prepared them for bed. She said, “Now boys, what would happen if either of you died tonight and you never had the opportunity again for forgiving one another?” James spoke up, “Well, OK, I’ll forgive him tonight, but if we’re both alive in the morning, he’d better look out.”

***
From the Sermons.com

As with so many of the stories of Jesus, the parable of the debtors arose out of a question that was posed to Jesus. Simon Peter said to him: "Master, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? Seven times? Even as he asks that question my mind cannot help but think about children and how they will sometimes confess something they do wrong expecting to get praise from a teacher or a parent because they were so honest.

In the same sense, Simon Peter by asking this question is not expecting rebuke but praise. He is expecting Jesus to say: "Excellent Peter. You go to the head of the class. You get A+." According to Jewish law, Peter had the right to think that he had done something good. Scribal law clearly read: 

"If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him." What Peter has done is to take this law of limited forgiveness, multiply it by two and add one, and then sit back with a smile on his face and say: Now how is that for being a great guy? And he surely must have been taken aback when Jesus said you must forgive seventy times seven. 

Then Jesus proceeded to tell a story. There was a certain king who had a day of reckoning for his servants...
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Most adults recognize it is their "job" to teach children right from wrong, good from bad, safe from scary, yes from no.  

But there are some lessons that children are better at teaching us. Think about celebrations like birthdays (especially Christmas), and Easter, and any other special days that have the possibility of "presents" attached. Kids LOVE them, anticipate and adore them. Children love and accept presents with unabashed enthusiasm. Receiving a gift is "all good." 

For adults it is a bit more difficult. We worry about the cost of the gift. We worry about reciprocating the gift. We worry about whether the gift has invisible "strings" attached. Suddenly "receiving" is a bit more complicated than just joyous. Receiving a gift is hard for most of us. We either feel beholden, or suspicious, or overwhelmed, or unworthy of the freely given gifts (gratuities) that bless us. That's why adults often become better givers than receivers. 

The adult vs. child version of acceptance is even greater with the other tremendous "gift" young children are good at offering and accepting. Kindergarten kids might get into a heated battle over who gets custody of a Ninja Turtle figure. Tears and blows might even be involved. But after a truce is called, and apologies are offered (or sometimes enforced), in a short time all is forgiven, and (play) time goes on. Forgiveness is offered and the play date goes on.

There are no thoughts of revenge. There is no nurturing of anger. There are no dreams of retaliation...

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 Forgiveness Written in Stone 

A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, "Today my best friends slapped me in the face."

They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, "Today my best friend saved my life." 

His friend asked him, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?" The other friend replied "When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it." 

So real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. Yet Jesus understands the difficulty of such forgiveness. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. So He gives a parable beginning in v.23 which will help us obey His commandment to keep on forgiving. 

Stephen Felker, How Often Should I Forgive?
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 To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

C.S. Lewis
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 The Danger within Us 

French author Victor Hugo has a short story titled, "93." In the midst of this tale a ship at sea is caught in a terrific storm. Buffeted by the waves, the boat rocks to and fro, when suddenly the crew hears an awesome crashing sound below deck. They know what it is. A cannon they are carrying has broken loose and is smashing into the ship's sides with every list of the ship. Two brave sailors, at the risk of their lives, manage to go below and fasten it again, for they know that the heavy cannon on the inside of their ship is more dangerous to them than the storm on the outside. So it is with people. Problems within are often much more destructive to us than the problems without. Today, God's word would take us "below decks" to look inside ourselves concerning the whole matter of forgiveness. 

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy, Sermons For Sundays: After Pentecost (Middle Third): The Incomparable Christ, , CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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 Debts in Roman Society 

In the ancient world cruel treatment was practiced against debtors, often without regard to the debtor's ability or intention to repay. In Athens prior to the establishment of democratic rights, a creditor could demand slave labor of his debtor or of members of the debtor's family as surety of payment.

 Roman law provided punishment by imprisonment to the debtors. The reason for imprisonment and cruel treatment was to force the debtor to sell whatever property he might secretly own, or to have the debtor's relatives pay his debt. 

The creditor would demand slave labor of the entire family so that the debt might be worked off. There were legal restrictions to prevent extreme cruelty, but in spite of the laws the entire system of debts and sureties was recklessly abused in the ancient world. 

The prophets frequently condemned violations of the laws. 

James R. Davis, The Unmerciful Servant
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Saved by Forgiveness 

Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness. 

David Augsburger
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 Forgiveness Is Not Innate 

William Willimon writes: "The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. 

Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. It is not a universal human virtue."

Will Willimon

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 Two Million Dollar Mistake 

John D. Rockefeller built the great Standard Oil empire. Not surprisingly, Rockefeller was a man who demanded high performance from his executives. One day, one of those executives made a two million dollar mistake. Word of the man's enormous error quickly spread throughout the executive offices, and the other men began to make themselves scarce, not wanting to cross his path. One man didn't have any choice, however, since he had an appointment with the boss. So he straightened his shoulders and walked into Rockefeller's office. As he approached Rockefeller's desk, he looked up from the piece of paper on which he was writing. "I guess you've heard about the two million dollar mistake our friend made," he said abruptly. "Yes," the executive said, expecting Rockefeller to explode. "Well, I've been sitting here listing all of our friend's good qualities, and I've discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don't you?"

 Dale Galloway, You Can Win with Love, in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Charles Swindoll, Word Pub., p. 215.

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 What God Can Do with Forgiveness 

By the grace of God we can use forgiveness as a positive, creative force bringing light into a darkened world. Nobody does that kind of thing better, of course, than God. Who could imagine 2,000 years ago that the symbol of the Christian church would be a hangman's noose, an electric chair, a guillotine? Those analogies may be necessary for us to keep from being too sentimental about "the old, rugged cross." A cross is a terrible thing. It was indeed a symbol of suffering and shame. Humanity nailed God's own Son on a cross. What barbarity! What unspeakable evil! Yet God turned that cross into the means by which you and I may find our salvation. That is what God can do with forgiveness. What can you do? 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 Forgiven: Too Poor to Pay
(A good sermon closer) 

When the books of a certain Scottish doctor were examined after his death, it was found that a number of accounts were crossed through with a note: "Forgiven--too poor to pay." But the physician's wife later decided that these accounts must be paid in full and she proceeded to sue for money. When the case came to court the judge asked but one question. Is this your husband's handwriting? When she replied that it was he responded: "There is no court in the land that can obtain a debt once the word forgiven has been written." 

And that is the good news that the Gospel offers us this morning....
***

Once upon a time two brothers, who lived on adjoining farms, fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a conflict. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.


One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's tool box. “I'm looking for a few days' work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?”

Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you.”

- “Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor; in fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll do him one better.”

- “See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence –an 8-foot fence — so I won't need to see his place or his face anymore.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge - a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all - and the neighbor, his younger brother was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done,” the older brother said to the carpenter.

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.
No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. 

I'd love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”

Jesus Christ is also a carpenter who builds the bridges. It is he who reconciles man to God and man to his neighbor, and brings them together by building bridges in-between. Today, he calls us too, to build bridges among ourselves and to be reconciled to one another.