Ephesians vi:  10-17 
[Children, obey your parents ... Honour thy father and thy mother ... That it may be well with thee ... And fathers, provoke not your children to anger: but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords ... as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.... And you, masters, do the same things to them ... knowing that the Lord both of them and of you is in heaven. And there is no respect of persons with him.] Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore, take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the breastplate of justice: And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). [By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit: and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all of the saints:]
Matthew xviii:  23-35
[Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.] Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants. And when he had begun to take the account, one as brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt. But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest. And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt. Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
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“As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
It is probably safe to say that the fundamental prayer of the Catholic religion is the Lord’s Prayer-the one we often call the “Our Father,” for its opening words. I am sure that some of you might want to object that the “Hail Mary” came first and is recited more often-and you would be correct-but it is, in fact, the Lord’s Prayer which was given to us by Jesus Himself in response to a request from the Apostles, wanting to know how He expected them to pray. But one of the difficulties that we encounter in saying either of these two excellent prayers is that we have said them so often that we tend to make their repetition mechanical-that is to say that we often say them without thinking about just what they mean.
The scripture readings today-and, yes, I did read a little bit more than what you had in your missal-center around one of the petitions we recite so often, and really ought to take very closely to heart. The emphasis today is on the idea that forgiveness is not, as it were, “a one way street.” As Catholics, it is a central part of our Faith that we are sinners and that God has sent His only-begotten Son to redeem us from sin. We sort of take it for granted that we do the sinning and God does the forgiving. Of course on one level that is correct: there is little or nothing that we can do that would be pleasing to God without first receiving His grace-and there doesn’t seem to be any limit on the number of times God will forgive us.
But there is an import condition that God places on granting His forgiveness. It is alluded to in this morning’s readings, as well as in the Lord’s Prayer: if we wish to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive.
The first servant in today’s Gospel owed his master a great deal of money. A talent was a weight of silver or gold; a hundred-fifty ounces in our measure. The first servant owed ten-thousand times this weight in silver-an enormous sum by any measurement-our Lord picked such an impossibly high amount on purpose, to demonstrate that this debt was completely beyond any hope of repayment. In our American idiom, our Lord would have said that the first servant owed a “Zillion Dollars.”
The second servant owed a hundred pence-a dollar or two if we accept the English rendering-maybe a few hundred or even a thousand if we are more precise about the value of the “denarius” mentioned in the Latin. But no matter what the exchange rate, it is crystal clear that the debt forgiven by the master was infinitely greater than the debt which the servant would not forgive for his fellow servant.
The parable mentions no reason why the master might have been in a generous mood-only that “he was moved with pity.” On the other hand, the first servant had just enjoyed a tremendous financial windfall-he had been forgiven an enormous debt. One might have expected him to be so euphoric with his good fortune that he might be willing to “spread it around” a little among his friends-to take everybody out for dinner, and certainly to forgive the debt of a few pence. But, instead, he began to choke the man, to beat him, and to put him in prison until he paid this relatively tiny debt.
The analogy should be clear to us. The enormous debt-the ten-thousand talents-corresponds to mortal sin. When we sin against God in a serious and deliberate manner, it becomes humanly impossible for us to do anything that can make up for that action-we incur, as it were, an unpayable debt to God, and we have not so much as a penny with which to repay it. Yet we know, with supreme confidence, that God will forgive us over and over again. We are absolutely certain of His willingness to forgive for He has made that forgiveness one of His Sacraments-we don’t even have to ask Him directly; we can just approach one of his agents (His priests), and be forgiven by a man who shares our sinful human nature. What could be easier?
But one more thing is expected of us, beyond contrition and Confession: We are expected to have the same willingness to forgive those who offend us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That phrase from the Lord’s prayer could be something of a curse if we don’t have the right attitude of forgiveness towards those with whom we must deal-we could be saying, in essence, “Lord, don’t forgive me, because I don’t forgive anyone else”!
How often must we forgive? The answer is “always-as many times as we are offended.” The “seventy times seven times” of the Gospel is just one of those Aramaic expressions, used to get around in a language that was weak on superlatives-think of it like our “Zillion Dollars”-a number that you will never be able to approach in this lifetime.
But, what does it mean to forgive? Well, it doesn’t mean to condone wrongdoing. Just because God forgives mortal sin, it certainly doesn’t mean that He accepts our sinful actions as though they were good. Likewise, if someone harms us, we are not supposed to make believe that the harm was not real-in fact, doing so might lead to additional harm to ourselves and to others-sometimes we are even obligated to correct the wrongdoer. It probably doesn’t mean that we should forget the harm done either, for often it is best to be on guard and not let future harm be done (you don’t put out the good china for the friend who always breaks things).
Saint Paul puts it well in his Epistle today. In his description it seems to be a matter of forbearance, or moderation, or tolerance, or just plain patience. Sometimes it is difficult to be a child, or a parent, or a servant, or even a master. Sometimes people demand the unreasonable. Paul suggests that we ought to indulge them if possible, although certainly not in matters that would be sinful. He tells that we ought to be careful not to provoke anger or to be disrespectful.
Note that Paul knows the difficulty in this and counsels us to call on God for His help in maintaining patience and forgiveness. We are not, after all, struggling with the master or the servant or the children-they are like the fellow servants in the parable. The real struggle is against “the deceits of the devil,” who can be overcome only with God’s grace and the powers He grants us. We are to arm ourselves with justice and peace and faith-to which we must add the truth and humility, which Paul mentions elsewhere.
So, whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer, let us not forget to say it with understanding (as we should say all our prayers). Pay particular attention to that phrase about forgiveness. It is a wonderful thing that we poor sinners can be forgiven so many times. But equally, it is a frightening thought to recognize the terrible consequences of asking forgiveness without being willing to “forgive our brothers from our hearts” whether it be seven times, or seventy times seven times, or a “Zillion” times.
Forgiveness is for the forgiving!