Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18: 21-35

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see if there are any ideas underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him -- Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus answered -- I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven times.

The number which Jesus proposes can also be translated to mean seventy-seven times hence some of the differing translations. Nevertheless, the meaning here is that the number of times forgiveness should be rendered is indefinite; that is, Seven is the perfect number and its multiples expresses the incalculable. In short, numeric language is inadequate when one contemplates forgiveness. Some scholars point out that this is also the reversal of the plea for excessive vengeance by Lamech in Genesis 4:23-24 where Lamech says -- I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.

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.

The original sum which has been translated into -- a huge amount -- is actually ten thousand talents. The sum exceeds any actual situation. It can only be explained if we realize that 10,000 is the highest number used in reckoning, and the talent is the largest currency unit in the whole of the Near East. The magnitude of a debt beyond conception was intended to heighten the impression made upon the hearers of this parable by its contrast with the trifling debt of 100 denarii later in the story. In short, 100 denarii could have been carried in a pocket and it was one five-hundred thousandth of the debt which the first servant owed. In comparison, ten thousand talents cashed into denarii would require some 25,000 men carrying sacks stuffed with denarii over their shoulders. Standing in a line about a yard apart, they would stretch out for about 20 miles. Another way of putting it is that it represents wages for one day of work from a first century worker for 150,000 years.

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.

Obviously this man could not repay such a large debt. The King and servants are depicted as Gentiles; for according to Jewish Law an Israelite man could only be sold in the case of a theft that could not be restored. Further, the sale of wife and children is strictly forbidden in Jewish Law.. However, in the Gentile world the average sale of a slave was between 500 to 2,000 denarii; therefore funds generated by the sale of property, the servant, and the entire family of the servant makes absolutely no headway into paying off the 100 million denarii.

At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, -- be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.

The most urgent form of a plea for mercy is the posture of prostration. Also, here is further evidence that we are dealing with gentile characters. Jewish characters would not do homage to anyone but God. Interestingly, the servant wants to deal with God on a justice level; that is, he wants time to make full restitution of an amount that is in practical First Century terms, incalculable. However, he will find that what will cause his debt to be forgiven has nothing to do with the justice of the King and everything to do with the mercy of the King.

Homily: God is a God of surprises who deals with us with mercy, even though we foolishly think we can make a fair exchange according to justice.

Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

The response of the King would have been completely unexpected from the listeners of this parable. Why such an immediate response of compassion, and why not just let him go to continue to work off the loan? Why go to the point of actually forgiving him his entire loan? Why not just forgive half or a quarter of the loan?

Homily Idea: Our God responds wholeheartedly to those who sincerely plea for mercy. There is no sin that our heavenly Father can not forgive, no matter how large

For me this is where a wonderful homily can be found; that is, this is where a scene is missing that would have made all the difference in the world. After the forgiveness of this massive debt, where is the scene of relief? Where is the scene of utter gratitude? Where are the tears? Where is the rejoicing with his wife and children who unknowingly were nearly sold into slavery? Where is the party that must be thrown with friends and neighbors? Where is the reflection upon the magnitude of what just happened while sitting quietly under the shade of a Sycamore tree?

Homily: Is there a scene missing in our stories in our own lives? Have we failed to grasp or appreciate the forgiveness of God toward us? Have we failed to forgive others because we have failed to realize the generous and loving forgiveness of God? Would we ever fail to forgive another if we, for only a moment, could fully appreciate the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father?

Homily: Also, is it possible that the first servant did not believe that he was truly forgiven such a massive debt? Did he doubt the sincerity or authority of the King to forgive such a debt? Is this why the scene of celebration and thanksgiving is missing? Do we truly believe that we are forgiven when we receive the forgiveness of God through the Church -- through the sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we let go of our sins when we are forgiven them, or do we not trust the authority of God to forgive us our sins? Do we feel that our sins are too big or serious to forgive? If any example can put that fear to rest, the magnitude of the debt owed in this story, and the forgiveness of that debt should do it.

Homily: Could the servant not forgive himself even though the King forgave him? Was he angry with himself for not being able to pay back his debt? Was he taking his anger out on another person in the character of his fellow servant? Does pride get in the way of us accepting the forgiveness we have asked for?

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. he seized him and started to choke him, demanding, -- Pay back what you owe

Note not only the complete lack of mercy, but the act of first choking and then demanding.

-- 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.

The words in which the first servant pleads with the king are almost verbatim those used later by the second servant asking him for patience. This parallel language serves to emphasize the contrary reactions to the plea for mercy in each case. For a few reasons listeners of this parable would have been surprised at the unforgiving response; after all, the first servant had just been forgiven a huge debt, the debt he is trying to collect is so comparatively small, and he is a fellow servant, not a subordinate.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.

Those fellow servants within earshot of this scene between the servants react in the same manner that the hearers of this parable react -- something must be done about this!

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?

Clearly, judgment has been leveled by the King via his very first words -- you wicked servant!. Also, a King is depicted here who readily admits that his forgiving action was due to the pleading of the servant -- an act of mercy, not of justice. Homily: Our God is a God who is moved with compassion at the pleading of a debtor. However, we will now see what happens to those who do not mirror the forgiveness extended to them.

Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

The King who has authority to forgive such phenomenally large debts also has the authority to rescind his forgiveness in light of the deplorable behavior of the servant. The King declares him a wicked servant not because he has mishandled or squandered an incalculable sum of money; but because he has mishandled the forgiveness that the King granted him. If the sum of the debt is unpayable, does the listener conclude that the imprisonment and torture is eternal? In the end, what good does the hoarding of forgiveness do? Also, the non-Jewish practice of torture as a punishment is used to intensify the frightfulness of the punishment leveled for the irresponsible handling of forgiveness.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart

Some scholars say that what is emphasized is not the immense mercy of the master but the pitiful lack of mercy from the servant and his utter coldheartedness in displaying such a lack of mercy at such a time. He should have been rejoicing with gratitude and walking gently with a humble heart. Perhaps this is why forgiveness must be -- from your heart. It must be heartfelt, fully-experienced, and shared.

Certainly a homily can be developed here regarding our praying of the Our Father each week at Mass and the line -- Forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us. The word -- as -- is not being used as in -- while -- but rather as -- according to. The last line of the Gospel should dispel any gray interpretations of the punch of this Gospel.

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