24th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:7; Rom. 14:7-9; Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35
Kingdom of Heaven - Forgiveness and Gratitude

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 17 September 2017

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, we are all very familiar with the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant”.  There are two aspects of this parable that we could reflect on today; the aspects of “forgiveness” and “gratitude”.  First, we have the servant who owed his king a huge sum of money of say, $20 million and of which there was no way he could repay his master; regardless of how hard he tries, during his lifetime.  As such, under the order of justice, he and his family were to be sold to meet his debt.  Being desperate, he fell on his knees and begged his Master to have pity on him.  His Master, moved with compassion, cancelled his debt.  This compassionate act of the servant’s Master, a Gentile King, was most unexpected, yet Mercy prevailed over the order of justice. 

In this parable, it is clear that as Jesus’ disciples, Jesus is calling us to be merciful and to forgive as frequently as seventy seven times, which is all the time.  In proclaiming this, we know that in the life of Jesus, He Himself precisely forgave those who never deserved to be forgiven; including and especially those who condemned and crucified Him.

To forgive those who have hurt or harmed us deeply is for many virtually impossible, especially in situations where one’s life and family has been destroyed beyond any hope of repair and reconciliation.  One of the most common example of this is infidelity in marriage, where not only the spouses but the innocent and vulnerable children are subjected to sufferings that can last a lifetime.  In such cases, to forgive can also take a life time.  Like an onion, we need to peel layer after layers of bitter memories and allow time for the wound to heal, instead of allowing the anger to fester and eat us up, and destroy us.  And, when we think we have overcome our traumas, one unexpected casual incident can gash open the wound again. 

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are each called daily to continue to beg Our Lord, for the graces we need to pray like Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  Such unconditional forgiving mercy and compassion was precisely what the Gentile king extended to his servant, when he forgave him is enormous debt.  And, so my brothers and sister, for those of us who are experiencing such deep hurts and traumas, we are called by Jesus today, to open our hearts and have the strength and wisdom to forgive unconditionally as Jesus has shown us.  Would we or at least would we beg Jesus for the strength to do so, even though it may be humanly impossible?

In the second aspect of today’s Parable, refers to the unforgiving servant who refused to forgive the debt of someone who owed him some $200 as compared to the $20 million debt that was forgiven.  As we begin to reflect on this challenge of Jesus, in today’s Gospel, I would like us to ask ourselves, “Are we harbouring any resentment, anger, jealousy, envy, revenge toward any person, here and now?”  If so, then whether consciously or not, in all probability we have not forgiven someone as fully as Jesus expects of us.

Also, in all probability, like the unforgiving servant of the parable, we have also not been grateful to God enough for all the Forgiveness, Mercy and Compassion that He has shown us throughout our lifetime.  Why is forgiving someone so difficult, we may ask?

Once two travellers on a long journey, were going along a dusty road that had no trees along its sides.  They were on the verge of collapsing and being scorched to death.  To their great delight as they turned a corner, they suddenly saw a huge tree out of nowhere, with huge leaves and broad branches to provide them with the cool shed that they so long to have.  So, they heaved a sigh of great relief and sat under the tree to rest under its cool shed.  After some time, one of the travellers began to be restless as he began to feel hungry. He then said to his companion, “Do you realise that this tree has no fruits?  This tree is quite useless . . . what kind of tree is this that has no fruits . . . let us move on . . . and perhaps, we would find another tree that has fruits to feed us.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, these two travellers illustrate the ungrateful attitude of the unforgiving servant in the parable, and also in many ways, if we are not careful, mirror the narrow attitudes we may have cultivated during our lifetime that we are not even fully conscious of.  The unforgiving servant refused to forgive the small debt that was owed to him, not only because he was not compassionate towards the sufferings of others, but more so, because he was not grateful for the great blessings and compassionate love that he received from his Master. 

Indeed, one of the greatest obstacle in the growth of our relationship with Jesus is the lack of gratitude to Him for the abundant blessings and compassionate love that we have received.  This is not too different from the travellers who sort refuge under the shed of the tree, when they were in desperate need, but have soon forgotten to be grateful for the shed they received that saved their lives.  They then made more selfish demands from the tree: from having the shed, they then demanded fruits . . . and if they were given fruits, in all probability they would also later demand for the wood of the tree . . . to burn to keep them warm in cold weather, or to sell to make money from it . . . their demands would be endless . . . Likewise, our demands too can be as exacting and endless, if we do not have a grateful heart for the blessings and mercy that we have received from God, in our lives . . .

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if our hearts are not grateful enough to God, we will continue to make more and more demands from God, and forget that we are called to return the blessings and show the compassion and mercy we have received for the greater good of the needs of the Church and the poor and needy.  This is more common than we think.  Is it any wonder then that today, we hear the common cry of “donation fatigue” when appeals are made to help build our Church and support the needs of the poor? 

If we are one of those who make such a protest, then a good question we need to ask ourselves daily, regardless of whether we are a lay person or a priest is, “In all that we claim to have given to the Church and shared with the poor, do they amount to even 1% of our income, wealth and blessings that we have received?”  And, if this is NOT so, then when we meet God at the gates of heaven after we die, would we not be guilty of the sin of omission of not having shown the needed mercy to the poor and needy, and the guilty of hoarding our wealth and blessings for ourselves?

I am aware that such statements are not popular and perhaps, too sensitive and painful to hear.  However, the Truth of the Gospels are not meant to make us guilty, but they are meant to set us free so that God’s blessings can flow through our hearts and lives even more abundantly and graciously.  Instead of eventually finding ourselves guilty of being the ungrateful servant of today’s parable, when we die; the guilt of living our lives in the blindness of not being conscious of not even returning 1% of our blessings and mercy to God for the use of the Church and the poor and those in need.  Is 1% too much to ask or is it too “shameful even to discuss?”  

My brothers and sisters in Christ, just so that we are able to appreciate God’s blessings more fully and not take them for granted, I would like us to reflect on these thoughts on, What if God decided to stop blessing us?”
What if
God couldn’t take the time to bless us today because
we couldn’t take the time to thank Him yesterday?
What if
God decided to stop leading us tomorrow because
we did not follow Him today?
What if
we never saw another flower bloom because
we grumbled when God sent the rain?
What if
God didn’t walk with us today because
we failed to recognize Him yesterday?
What if
God took away the Bible tomorrow because
we would not read it today?
What if
God took away His message because
we failed to listen to His messenger?
What if
the door of the church was closed because
we did not open the door of our heart?
What if
God stopped loving and caring for us because
we failed to love and care for others?
What if
God would not hear us today because
we would not listen to Him yesterday?
What if
God answered our prayers the way
we answer His call for service?
What if
God met our needs the way
we give Him our lives?
“SBC Ring Mailing List,” author unknown.

Heber Hale, once said, “As stewards of God we must be truly appreciative of the things we receive . . . ‘Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge which is only returning evil for evil.  Ingratitude on the other hand returns evil for good.’  You remember that of the ten lepers healed by Christ, only one returned to give thanks.  A beautiful legend tells the story of two angels that were sent forth throughout the land, each given a basket, one to gather up requests and the other thanksgivings. The angel of requests came back with her basket running over full. The angel of thanksgivings came back with her basket practically empty. So it is in life. It seems that all have many requests to make, but few of us think of returning and giving thanks to God for what we have received.”
(Heber Q. Hale – “Conference Report”, October 1919, p.172)

And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Thomas a Kempis once said, “Be thankful for the smallest blessing and you will deserve to receive greater.  Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as special favours.  If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.”  (Thomas à Kempis, 1380-147).  To this, William Ward adds, “At the end of the day, try answering this question: ‘God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you, Lord?’ “ 

So, let us pray that we have the wisdom to be the forgiving person that Jesus and His disciples expect of us, and show the needed deep gratitude to God for the abundant blessings and mercy that we have received from Him and would share them in return for the needs of the Church, and the poor and needy.  Otherwise, our relationship with Jesus, Our Lord, will remain stale and stagnant.

Adapted from: (http://shortstoriesshort.com/story/never-be-ungrateful/)


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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