Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
The Spiritual Work of Mercy
“And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” - Jesus (Matthew 18:27)
St. John Chrysostom on today’s gospel stated:
“What then are God’s good deeds? He created us from nothing; he made the whole visible world for us, the heaven, the sea, the earth, animals, plants and seeds. I must be brief because of the infinite number of his works. Into us alone of all that are on earth he breathed a living soul. He planted a garden for us. He gave us a helpmate and set us over all the brute species, and he crowned us with glory and honor. And yet after all this, when humanity turned out ungrateful toward its benefactor, he thought us worthy of an even greater gift—-forgiveness.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ll never forgive him?” Or, “I’ll never forgive her?” Never is a long time. In the Catechism we read: There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.” Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin. (#982)
I often gaze upon the crucifix affixed to the wall behind the Altar. And I can’t help thinking about what put Jesus there. I can’t help thinking that my hand was wrapped around that hammer that drove the nails into his hands and his feet. I can’t help thinking that it was my anger, my vengeful attitude, my darkened mind and my weakened will that made this supreme act of Mercy necessary. A crucifix in the home just might help everyone in the house to be a little bit more merciful.
Among the several things that ticked off the scribes one stands out. The paralytic who was carried on a pallet by four men was let down through a hole in the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” And the scribes sitting there said, “You can’t do that! This is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
One of the objections to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that only God can forgive sins. But the ‘forgiveness of sins’ is a ministry of the Church. Jesus gave his apostles and their successors the ‘power to forgive sins;’ the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18) They taught as the Church does today that we can be reconciled to God; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19) In this Sacrament we are reconciled to God and his Church. It is this Mercy we take back into our homes and jobs and relationships and dispense it as freely as we have received it.
This is what the unforgiving servant failed to do in today’s gospel. He owed his master what equated to more than fifteen years’ of pay. Out of pity for him who begged for mercy, the master released him from his huge debt. Somehow this same man could not give what he had received. We are to freely give what we have received. When we leave the confessional we must always remember that to whom much is given, much is required. The gracious words of absolution are: 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; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Are there any more gracious and merciful words in all the world? I think not. A year or so ago, my youngest daughter came to me and told me she was sorry about something. I said something like, “OK,” in a somewhat sympathetic tone; I think. And immediately she said, “Well, don’t you forgive me?” Out of the mouth of little children. I learned something that moment about the spiritual work of mercy.
We come today to this Table of Mercy. And we remember that when the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. (Titus 3:5-6) Amen.