Homily: 24th Sunday, Year A
‘Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven’
Theme of today’s readings is quite clear: forgiveness – that most difficult of virtues.
Specifically, forgiving others that we ourselves might be forgiven.
An elderly parishioner said to her priest ‘Do you know, I don’t have an enemy in the world’.
The priest was suitably impressed – what a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years!
Then she added: ‘I’ve outlived them all.’
I guess if we live long enough we might be able to say the same…
But, as I said, forgiveness is the most difficult of virtues.
And there are some sins which would be difficult for even the most saintly of people to forgive.
But nonetheless, we must pray for the grace to pardon those who have trespassed against us, since it is in forgiving that we are forgiven.
If you hang on to hatred, malice, anger all that happens is that it slowly poisons your heart with bitterness.
By hanging on to bitterness we only hurt ourselves.
We build a kind of prison around ourselves whose walls only the grace of forgiveness can breach.
And what is more, we must learn to separate the sin from the sinner.
Love the sinner and hate the sin.
The worst sinner who ever lived is still a child of God, just like you and I.
As Christians we must try our very best to see God in everyone, whoever they are and whatever their transgressions.
Learning to forgive someone is a process which has three stages:
Firstly, denial: I will never forgive that person.
Secondly: I cannot forgive that person. Here, forgiveness is seen as a good thing but a step too far; we’re still hanging on to that hurt.
Thirdly: I want to forgive and let go of the pain with God’s help.
And that is the point: ‘with God’s help.’
Forgiving a deeply-felt hurt is one of those things in life which we just cannot do without involving God.
Without his gentle hands to untie the tangled knot of our bitterness and resentment inside us we remain at the first of those three stages: I will never forgive ..
The closer the relationship, the deeper the hurt, and often the person most in need of our forgiveness is ourselves.
We all have skeletons in the closest.
Things we have done or not done which we won’t allow ourselves to let go of.
But however gracious and forgiving we may be of others, still we cannot find it in our hearts to let go of our own sins.
But if you are sorry for your sins then God forgives you.
And not just seven times, or seventy times seven times, but times without number.
There are no boundaries to God’s forgiveness. Recall in last Sunday’s gospel that if the wrongdoer refused to repent of his ways he was to be driven out of the community and treated like a tax collector?
And then consider how Jesus treated tax collectors and sinners.
The pharisees complained that he sat down to eat with them.
He went out of his way, and received the condemnation of his peers to befriend them.
Why would he not do the same with you?
The servant in debt to his master in Jesus’ parable is, of course, you and I.
We are in debt to God over our heads for our sins.
We are insolvent with God.
We do not have the resources to make good our debts and so our only recourse is to throw ourselves on his mercy.
And by his great goodness God forgives us and cancels our debt.
But when others are in debt to us for their transgressions we do not do to others as God has done unto us.
Rather than cancel their debts by forgiving, we call them in.
We retain rather than loose.
Instead of learning from what God has done to us we are intolerant, resentful, demanding.
But God is not blind.
He sees not only what the world sees, but he also looks deep within us.
We will only receive what we have given.
Where we have been merciful, we too will receive grace and mercy.
But if we do not forgive our neighbour from our hearts then we cannot expect God to forgive us, however much we plead.
‘May God forgive him’ we say to ourselves as we recall once again some longstanding hurt.
What God would really like is for us to forgive.
To find it in our hearts to let go of the pain and long-held resentment and forgive.
Jonathan Swift wrote: ‘We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.’
But Jesus loved us enough to lay down his life that we might be forgiven.
We don’t have to go that far, just find it within ourselves to do for others what God has done time and time again for us.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them.’
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.