•Sirach 27: 30 – 28: 7 • Romans 14: 7-9 • Matthew 18: 21-35•
(Link not provided to the USCCB site for the readings as it is listing the readings for the Exaltation of the Cross, not the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time..Reyanna)
Here are some facts and statistics unknown to most of us. Incarceration in the United States of American is one of the main forms of “punishment” for the commission of felonies and other offenses. In 2013 the prison population in the United States was 2.4 million people. One of every hundred American adults is behind bars. That is the highest documented incarceration rate in the world! Just less then one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons. Within our prisons, “solitary confinement” is an additional form of incarceration in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact and detained inside a cramped, concrete, windowless cell in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. The devastating psychological and physical effects of such prolonged “solitary confinement” are well documented by social scientists.
Such facts and statistics are a commentary on the lack of forgiveness among us as a people.
Many of our peers claim to be atheists or agnostic. We cannot have gospel expectations of them. However those of us who claim to be “Christian” are confronted by gospel expectations. That brings us to this parable of “the merciless servant.”
In our text from Matthew’s gospel last week, we clearly heard the concern of his community about conflicts, disputes and confrontations within the community. The author gave detailed instructions on how to deal with such problems.
Today Peter asks “how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” That seems a valid question. Peter is willing to forgive, but how much is enough? Jesus answers firmly: “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words you have to keep forgiving, every time, unconditionally! That is the way Jesus thought and lived!
Then he adds a parable. “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE a king” who “canceled the servants debt and let him go.” Let me remind you that the passion burning in the heart of Jesus was “the kingdom of heaven.” In word and act Jesus showed that the thing God wants for everyone is a fully human life. When “God’s new reality” emerges among us, peace and well-being will be shared by everyone and all people will live fully human lives.
“The king” in this parable is a model of a fully human being. He is motivated by pity, and
compassion and reaches out to the servant with unconditional love. He forgives and restores.
“The servant” in this parable is a model of a less than fully human being. He is harsh, demanding and vindictive. He had his “fellow servant … thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”
We think of forgiveness as an admirable, heroic act. Jesus thought of it as normal. I began this homily with facts and statistics about people incarcerated in our prisons. Not all those
incarcerated are psychopathic personalities or guilty of violent crime.
People become more human when they forgive and less human when they don’t. People
become more human when they are forgiven and less human when they are not forgiven. Our prisons are places of punishment, not forgiveness.
“Unless the cycle is broken at some point, evil becomes self-perpetuating.” “When victims cannot or will not forgive, they are left with an unhealed wound that goes on harming them, by repeating the harm of the past. The same thing happens in society.”
Consider the state of Israel. The citizens of that little country have never forgiven Hitler and the Nazis for the Holocaust. Today they treat Palestinians as the Nazis treated them. They imprison Palestinians behind massive walls and seek to exterminate them. In truth, the people of Israel are themselves incarcerated in a prison of their own making.