Homily: Sun 9/13/20
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Today's readings can be found: [HERE]
In our gospel passage, we’re presented with a parable, in which there is a scene that Jesus describes as deeply disturbing: one servant seizes another, chokes him, and demands, “Pay back what you owe!”. He ignores his fellow servants’ pleas, and has his debtor imprisoned until the debt was paid.
What might cause such bottled-up anger that erupts at the first opportunity? We do have a hint as to what triggered the wicked servant.
The parable begins with the wicked servant being unable to pay back his master. And we can guess why. From the parable, it’s clear that there’s at least one servant—maybe others—who owed him some small amount. If others didn’t pay him back, how could he pay back the master?
You can imagine how embarrassing that could be, and possibly terrifying when the consequences are dire. It can make the wicked servant’s fury seem justified: “It was because of you that the master intended to sell me, my wife, my children and all my property! You didn’t pay me, and so I couldn’t pay the master! Give me my due, or you’ll be the one in jail!”
There can be times when we can be tempted towards that same mindset. We might point to others as the cause of our anger and resentment. “That person didn’t give me my due.” “That person broke our agreement.” “That person didn’t live up to my expectations.” “That person didn’t do what I told them to do.” “That person did—or said—something that I didn’t like.” Etc. etc. “That’s why I’m angry!” “That’s why I’ve sinned!” “That’s why I’m this way—he did this to me!”
It is understandable how we, all of us sinners, can be tempted towards anger and hatred. But the real danger is when we fail to break out of that mindset of the wicked servant. In a moment of panic, that wicked servant begged for mercy. And the master readily gave it:
“Unable to pay his debt, the wicked servant fell down, did [his master] 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.”
The wicked servant’s debt was forgiven. At that point, who cares what caused the debt. The debt was gone; and so, the source of that debt was irrelevant. The wicked servant was pardoned; he should have done the same to others. But he kept that chip on his shoulder. And we saw the consequence:
"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.”
Though mercy was freely given, the wicked servant had rejected it. That’s what his actions equated to. He failed to receive his master’s mercy, when he chose rather to hold a grudge.
Like that wicked servant, we can be tempted to isolate the mercy we receive from God from our interactions with others. We can compartmentalize our relationship to the Lord from our other relationships. We do that every time we ask for God’s forgiveness, but then fail to forgive others from the heart.
Imagine going to confession and confessing anger, impatience, hatred, or bitterness—caused by someone else—and asking God for forgiveness.
The Lord always forgives us readily. But to hold on to negativity after being forgiven, is to be just like that wicked servant. We can either be receptacles of God’s mercy, or receptacles of anger and bitterness. We cannot be both. We can either receive God’s forgiveness, or we can hold on to a grudge. We cannot hold on to both; it’s one or the other.
The generosity we’ve received from God must be shared with others. Our relationship to Jesus must influence our relationship with others. Anything less is a rejection of mercy.
… Just a final related thought:
In the Our Father, which Jesus taught us, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those two things go together. We are forgiven on the condition that we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Ironically, when someone has sinned against me, I’m actually indebted to that person. How? If someone has sinned against me, I now have someone to forgive. If I’ve run out of people to forgive, I should be very afraid. Offenses are like currency we use to get into heaven. If there’s no one left for me to forgive, how dare I ask God for forgiveness.
Through the grace of the Mass, may we share the mercy we receive from God with others. May God bless you.
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; [from Wikipedia]