Homily, 24th Sunday (A) 2017

Today’s teaching from Our Lord is clear and unambiguous – if we want God to forgive us our sins, then we have to forgive those who have sinned against us.

This was clear to St Peter who, with the other disciples, had been taught by Jesus to pray to God, as we will do later in Mass: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. That little word ‘as’ carries so much weight!

But surely, Peter suggested, there must be a limit to the number of times you can go on forgiving someone who is repeatedly offending you? He agreed that you must respond generously to the offender but, surely, he said, there must be a limit? In then suggesting to Jesus that the limit should be seven times, Peter thought he was being very generous because this was far in excess of the traditional limits to forgiveness set by Jewish rabbis of the time.

Jesus responded by firmly saying: no, you must not set a limit. But if you want a number, then multiply your seven by 70 – so 490 times, that’s how far you must be willing to go to forgive someone.

To illustrate his teaching, Jesus told a story about a king dealing with someone who owed him an astronomical sum of money, the equivalent of billions of pounds today.  After the man begged for mercy, the king cancelled the debt.  But this liberated man showed no mercy to someone who owed him the equivalent of a few pounds.

The point of the story was that just as the king cancelled the servant’s large debt, God cancels our debt to Him and so we, in turn, must extend that same mercy to others who have wronged us. As God does not set a limit to his forgiveness for us, so we must not set a limit to our forgiveness of others.

That’s fairly clear, isn’t it? But how do we live up to it? If you are bearing huge hurt in your heart at the moment, it’s not easy to put this teaching into practice. For some of us, time is the great healer and we manage, eventually, to get over the wrong done to us. But, clearly, there are some things there’s no getting over and we bear the scars for the rest of our lives.

In What Happened, her recently published account of the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, Hilary Clinton describes what helped her move beyond anger following her unexpected loss to Donald Trump. Each chapter of the book concludes with a short quote from a famous activist, politician or writer. The final chapter closes with this quote attributed to Pope John XXIII, who was made a saint by Pope Francis in 2014:

Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible to do.

Perhaps there is something in this advice which might help some of us?

If you have not been able to let go of hurt and move on, what is it doing to you? In most cases, when you bear anger against another, that anger damages you far more than the person who hurt you. Bearing anger stops you from being the real ‘you’ and making the most of the gifts, opportunities and life that God has given you. That’s the tragedy and the utter waste brought about my anger.

So is your anger holding you back? Maybe it’s time to let go, move on and

Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible to do.

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
17 September 2017