Celebrate God’s mercy that forgives debts, and then do likewise

| September 9, 2020 | 0 Comments

iStock/shuang paul wang

This weekend, my community of St. Patrick in Oak Grove finally gets to celebrate the elimination of our parish debt — after 19 years, thanks be to God!

We actually made our last payment at the end of June, but with restrictions on gatherings because of COVID-19, we deferred the festivities until September, in place of what would have been CountryFest, our annual fall festival.

Being grateful for such a milestone cannot go unrecognized — despite masks and social distancing — because four pastors later, after numerous campaigns (some successful, some not), and lots and lots of prayers, sacrifice and generosity, God, in his kindness, mercy and compassion, has helped us to eliminate our debt.

In this Sunday’s Gospel parable, Jesus relates how the master’s compassion and our Father’s forgiveness are like eliminating or forgiving a huge, unpayable debt. But, unlike parish debt, no matter how much we try to promise to do so on our own, we are incapable of removing or forgiving our entire debt due to sin. Infinitely more so than paying off parish debt, such an underserved act of the Father’s gratuitous love and forgiveness must be celebrated as the very meaning of good news.

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?”

Peter’s question in Matthew 18:21 is one we all wrestle with from time to time — I sometimes do. When wronged — whether perceived or real — it troubles and hurts us, and we seek some form of justice and healing.

It all goes back to the commandments being written on our heart. As early as childhood we have a built-in sense of justice, like a red flag alerting us when life isn’t fair. Oftentimes the wound and pride of unforgiveness occurs because we put the attention on us, rather than remembering that any offense against us — even if true — is first and foremost always an offense against God. As a result, if I want my entire debt of sin to be forgiven, I must become compassionate (merciful) like the Father.

This might explain why Peter and the rest of us find practicing forgiveness difficult for small debts, not to mention huge debts. For as often as we try — even promise ourselves — that we can somehow pay off the debt, Christ the King knows that, in our pride, we are seeking to do the impossible, something that only a compassionate and loving God can do.

When we grasp that none of us can justify ourselves before God — we are all sinners who owe God an unpayable debt — only then does the way forward and the path of mercy become clear.

“O happy fault!” If not for sinful humanity, God couldn’t have revealed to us his great and tender mercy.

This week, I invite you to meditate on the virtue of gratitude — to focus on what you have and not on what you don’t have. For when we focus on what we have — God’s forgiveness of our huge debt — we have every reason to celebrate, to give praise and thanksgiving to God. On the other hand, when we focus on what we don’t have, it turns us away from God.

God’s merciful love is something we will all be eternally grateful for, something we must all ask for, share and trust in. Not just seven times, but 77 times.

 Father Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove.

Sunday, Sept. 13
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures