Two months before a presidential election, we all can’t agree on much, but we can all agree on the first reading today: “wrath and anger are hateful things….” We all hate the wrath and anger blanketing our America, like the noxious black clouds of smoke covering the Bay Area for almost a month now. When will it lift? On a personal level, how can we clear the air after a hurtful argument with a friend or family member?
The first reading is clear about the problem, and equally clear about the solution: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice….” And Peter asks in the Gospel: “how many times?” In corporate America we say “fool me once bad on you, fool me twice bad on me.” You get two strikes before I end our business relationship. The rest of us say “three strikes and you’re out.” But Peter says “I’ll forgive even up to seven times. Is that enough, Jesus?” Jesus says “seventy-seven times, Peter.
How can a mere mortal forgive someone 77 times? After about 66 times I would lose count, which is precisely the point. 77 times means … forever. To illustrate, Jesus tells a parable: one man owes another man “a huge amount,” and the original Greek text literally says “10,000 talents.” A “talent” was a year’s wage, so it would take the man 10,000 years to pay it off. Well, since no one lives that long, he would never pay it off. A third man owes the second man “a much smaller amount,” and in Greek it is “100 denarii.” A denarius was a day’s wage. He could pay it off in 100 days.
But man #2 does not forgive man #3, even though man #1 forgave man #2. And because man #2 does not forgive man #3, man #1 revokes the forgiveness of man #2’s debt. “So will my heavenly Father do to you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart,” Jesus says.
God dearly wants to forgive our debt. But if we don’t forgive man #3, we refuse God’s forgiveness. If you want forgiveness, give forgiveness. Yes, you say, but how can I forgive a former spouse who continues to hurt me and my children, or an employer who keeps me in economic and workplace misery, or a man who has killed my son? Because God has forgiven us for killing His Son, we can forgive. His Son’s blood transforms us into forgiving machines! If we knew what we had in the bank, we would gladly forgive everybody everything, because what we have in the bank is infinite forgiveness, and infinite grace. God has forgiven our 10,000-year jail sentence. If we know this (and we can only know it through prayer and works of charity), we will have no trouble forgiving another’s 100-day jail sentence.
We are richer than we think. We are free. We are not slaves to unforgiveness, wrath, and anger. We are free because Christ has made us free, by freely dying for us.