Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - September 13, 2020
On the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year, Sirach and Matthew’s Gospel remind us once again that both the Old and the New Testaments show that mercy and forgiveness have always been part of God’s word to us.
Sirach, living and teaching in Jerusalem 200 years before Christ, challenges his listeners: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” The Responsorial Psalm assures us that “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. But when Peter asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive?” Jesus replies in a way that assures disciples that just as God forgives, so we must forgive. We want to stop counting and keep forgiving. Whoever is counting is not forgiving but just biding time. Our Lord is calling for forgiveness beyond all calculation.
This is not the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that our imitation of God’s mercy and forgiveness has been mentioned. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount with beatitudes, and one of those beatitudes clearly says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (5:7). Teaching his disciples the Our Father, Jesus emphasized forgiveness not only in the prayer itself (6:12: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”) but also in the following verses (6:14-15: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”).
Jesus offers the parable of the unmerciful servant to help the disciples understand. Like the disciples then, disciples today want to understand the lesson about treating each other the way God treats us – with mercy and forgiveness.
As he announced the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2015, Pope Francis reminded us that Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy and that we constantly need to contemplate the mystery of mercy. Mercy is the wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into his brother's and sisters' eyes on the path of life. Mercy is the bridge that connects God and all of us – opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. [Cf. Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 11 April 2015]
Today, as we turn once again to our merciful and loving God, we pray that His compassion will always be available to those who listen to His Word and strive to follow the example of His Son. As faithful disciples, may we strive always to seek His forgiveness and be ready to share with others the same compassion and mercy that God has given to us!