MARCH 5, 2002, 3RD TUESDAY OF LENT: HOMILY- MATTHEW 18:21- 35
HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD I FORGIVE MY BROTHER WHEN HE OFFENDS ME? St. Peter asked our Lord this question because he had come to see that Jesus brought a new attitude toward the whole matter of relations among those who would belong to the circle of his disciples. Instead of the Mosaic doctrine of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' which was intended to assure that vengeance did not go beyond just limits, our Lord stressed readiness to forgive and overlook injuries. But surely, it seemed to Peter, there had to be some limit; one cannot be expected to allow others to go on indefinitely in this offensive ways and still treat them as brothers.
Jesus, very much to Peter's surprise, however, made it clear that for him there are no limits in our willingness to forgive. His reply, at the same time, shows that there is a condition: we are to forgive provided the offending party seeks our mercy and good will. On another occasion he makes the further point that even though it is a matter of persons who remain hostile to us, and are our enemies, we are to do such good to them as we are able.
'Love your enemies' was perhaps the most radical social message ever taught. When it is practiced it is surely one of the most convincing testimonies to the mercy, goodness and love of God. And that is the very point that Jesus makes. If we would prove to be worthy of God's love and favor, if we wish to be his friends, and become members of his family, we must imitate God's loving mercy and his universal love.
We ourselves do well today to reflect on this teaching. While we probably do not have personal enemies bent on destroying us or doing us as much harm as they can, yet there are plenty of persons in the world today who would gladly harm us if it would further their own cause or their own interests. That is the case of the terrorists and criminals who are disposed to do violence to anyone whose harm would seem to bring advantage to their interests. We need to take a view as to how they should be dealt with, taking into account the duty of defending the rights of innocent parties. Mercy that Jesus practiced and taught is not to be exercised at the expense of the weak and innocent to whom we have obligations of justice and charity.
But our Lord's teaching has further implications for each of us than appears at first sight. We are to cultivate dispositions of mercy, kindness and fellow feeling not only toward those who have actually offended us, but even more are we bound to be well disposed to those whose behavior or character or personality irritates or annoys us for one reason or other. It is all too easy for a person to be critical, or scornful of persons whose manners strike him as odd, unmanly or uncouth. Labeling such persons with words that show contempt or scorn, treating them with a measure of disapproval, speaking ill of them- all these and similar ways of acting are unworthy of Christ's followers. Such behavior is all too common in society and is the cause of much suffering and injustice; it is all the easier to slip into it in that it is so commonly practiced and is frequently accepted as a sign of membership in good society. Thus to treat others is to fail in showing justice and to be lacking in that mercy which Jesus reminds us we ourselves need from God.
At this Eucharist, then, may we receive the grace to recognize the many opportunities we have every day to practice the mercy, the fraternal charity and kindly dispositions that Jesus inculcates in today's Gospel and even more by his own example. Then shall we prove to be witnesses to he truth of his message and to the goodness and mercy of our heavenly Father who is good to all and every ready to forgive those who turn to him in faith seeking his forgiveness and his grace.