Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Have you ever been in that place where you are constantly and intentionally hurt by someone you trusted? Have you also been in the corner where you are expected to forgive and to act as if nothing happened? Many could connect to this experience.

One important fact is that it is difficult to pass through life without offending people or being offended by them. But note this: “It is not so much about what people do to you, but what you do with and about whatever comes your way!

Today’s First Reading (Sirach 27:30—28:7) is one of the most compelling scriptures on offense and forgiveness. Among other things, the writer said:

The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then, when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?

We have some instructive messages from the above statement that we should take seriously. First, we learn here that anyone intending to take revenge would risk suffering the Lord’s vengeance as their sins will not be forgotten.

On the other hand, those who forgive their neighbor’s injustice would receive the Lord’s forgiveness of their sins when they pray. Finally, we learn that those who nurture anger against others will not obtain healing from the Lord.

How Much Forgiveness Can I Give?

In the Gospel Reading (Matt.18:21-35), Simon Peter approached Jesus after his explanation about reconciliation to ask a personal question on forgiveness. He said: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Our Lord’s previous instruction about an offended person beginning the reconciliation process with an offender could have challenged Peter’s thoughts as he could have been dealing with a difficult brother. Whenever Jesus speaks, someone’s situation is often at stake.

In the Lord’s response, he said, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” In other words, as many times as you are offended. Afterward, he went further to use a parable kingdom to demonstrate the importance of forgiveness.

The parable talks about a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. In the process, he discovered a debtor who owed him a huge amount. The debtor’s shortfall made the king decide to sell the debtor alongside his family and properties to settle the debt. But he begged the king to be patient and give him time to pay back. Moved with compassion, the king let him go.

The high point in the parable came when the debtor who was forgiven aggressively confronted another servant who owed him a smaller amount. He refused to pay attention to the pleadings of his colleague and even went further to put him in prison until he paid back the debt.

The story of this unimaginable unforgiveness marinated in wickedness reached the king through their fellow servants. Reacting immediately, the king invited the unforgiving servant, revoked his clemency over his debt, and had him face a more severe punishment: life imprisonment.

Forgiving from the Heart

Concluding the parable, our Lord Jesus Christ indicated that the same fate of the wicked servant would follow anyone who refuses to forgive from the heart. This concluding part of the parable opens us to a central element about forgiveness, which most people need to learn or consider in administering the facility of forgiveness, which is forgiving from the heart.

The mention of forgiveness from the heart quickly suggests that it is possible to forgive from any other faculty apart from the heart, like the head. This approach happens when forgiveness comes without reference to God and love. On the contrary, true forgiveness comes from the heart powered by God’s love,

The heart is a powerful storage system of the soul which influences our actions and inactions. The Book of Proverbs (4:23) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Our Lord Jesus Christ also confirms that the heart is a powerful resource center (Matt. 15:19-20).

Why Should I Forgive?

A simple way of recapturing Peter’s question in the Gospel is: “Why should I forgive?’ This question constantly confronts millions of people going through hurtful experiences and wondering if they should forgive. We often seek reasons to justify our actions, and forgiveness is not excluded. We shall try to answer why we should forgive.

Forgiveness is God’s instruction: The foremost reason we should forgive hurts is because God says so. If we hold whatever God says as sacred and binding, then the instruction to forgive should be a grave and  sacred obligation for us.

A scan through the character of God reveals that he values obedience more than anything. Recall that the fall of our first parents was on account of disobedience (Genesis 3). Saul was rejected as king because of his disobedience (1 Sam. 15:10-11). And behind the first miracle of Jesus was Mary’s instruction to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Forgiveness liberates us Mentally and Spiritually: Lewis B. Smedes says: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” That statement has every inch of truth because unforgiveness could indicate mental or spiritual imprisonment.

You can’t imagine how much burden you carry when you live in unforgiveness. Question: “Do you feel good about it, and how long can you live with this scourge that could also affect your mental, spiritual, and even physical health?” Jesus asked us to carry our cross daily and follow him, but the cross of unforgiveness was not part of it. Forgive and liberate yourself.   

Moving Forward: Do not Hold Yourself Down; Forgive!

You may not stop people from hurting you even when you try not to offend them. So, whenever you find yourself in that strained situation, remember the following: “The first to apologize is the bravest, the first to forgive is the strongest, and the first to forget is the happiest.”

Remember that your administration of forgiveness from your heart will bring many divine benefits, including but not limited to divine forgiveness, mercy, healing, and provision. Forgive now, not after death; it doesn’t matter how many times you must do it; even God does not record our sins because He does; “Who can stand?” (Psalm 130:3).

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.

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