Thursday August 14, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Joshua 3:7-10a, 11, 13-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:21-19:1)
We see in the readings today the great mercy of the Lord; first, in Our Lord telling us about forgiveness of sin and how we come before the Lord with great and huge debts and the Lord in His mercy writes it off because we beg Him to do so. We see even in the Old Testament reading from Joshua how, after 40 years of putting up with these people in the desert and all their grumbling and all their disobedience and all the things that they inflicted on the Lord because of their selfishness, the Lord still, in mercy for them, brings them into the Promised Land, even by working an extraordinary miracle by making a river back up in a solid wall, the water backing up on the one side and downstream the water simply disappearing as it went down toward the Dead Sea. It is very reminiscent, certainly, of crossing out of Egypt through the Red Sea when the waters split as the people walked through. Now, once again, as they were going out of the desert and into the Promised Land, something that was similar happened so the people could see that God was with them; they could see His mercy. They could simply stop to think back over what had happened in the course of 40 years and all that they had done against the Lord, and then see His mercy at work once again, that He was bringing them into the Promised Land and once again making extraordinary promises to them about how He would lead them and dispossess the Canaanites and give them the land that He had promised to their fathers.
The Lord also makes wonderful promises to us, and how often we grumble and complain. We murmur against Him just like the people of Israel did – and how merciful He is to us. But then He turns right around and says to us, “You must be merciful. If you do not forgive your brothers and sisters, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” And so the Lord tells us very clearly that our heavenly Father will treat us the same way as what we heard about the servant in the Gospel who was initially forgiven his debt, but when he refused to forgive someone else he was handed over to the torturers until he paid back his entire debt. Our Lord tells us that our heavenly Father will treat us the same way unless we forgive others from the heart.
It is not an easy task for us, for whatever reason. We find it easy to come before the Lord and beg His mercy for the heinous things we do against Him, and when someone does some small, little, minor thing against us, we feel justified in being angry and hanging onto it and refusing to forgive. We need to learn from the mercy that we beg of God. We expect that He is going to be merciful to us, and then He commands us that we have to be merciful to others as He has been to us. That is exactly what Our Lord is telling us: Unless we forgive others, we are going to be handed over to the torturers until we pay back everything that we owe. He is willing to write it off as long as we are willing to write things off. Now that is difficult because, again, of our rationalizing mind; we think it is okay for us to be angry and to hold onto our lack of forgiveness because of this or that or the other reason. We have to realize that, first of all, it is only we ourselves who are being hurt by that, and secondly, if we try to rationalize our way around why it is okay for us to hang onto the hurt, then God is going to say, “If it is okay for you to not forgive then it is okay for Me to not forgive you.” If you want to be forgiven, you have to forgive. That is the stipulation we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others.” We are praying condemnation upon ourselves if we are unwilling to forgive.
So the Lord is asking that we will learn that as we come before Him and expect mercy we too must extend that mercy and forgive whatever it is that we have against others. To forgive them, remember, is not to say it was okay. God will never say it was okay that we sinned. But it is simply to say, “I’m not going to hang onto it anymore. I’m going to let go of it.” That is what we are asking God to do: to forgive us and forget what we have done, to let go of it. And that is what He is expecting of us. Not to suggest that it was okay for people to do things that were wrong, but rather to simply say, “I’m going to let go of it so that I’m not carrying around this weight, so that I’m not dragging around a ball and chain with me. I’m going to let go of it and I’m going to be at peace, so that I’m not carrying around the hurt and the anger and all the other things. I’m going to forgive others as God has forgiven me.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.