Forgiveness from God’s Heart

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Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Matthew 18:21–19:1

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.

Opening Prayer: Lord, bless me as I ponder your words today in Scripture. Help me to conform my heart more closely to yours.

Encountering Christ

  1. Brothers: In Biblical terms, the number seven reflects perfection. We may take Christ’s words, as no doubt his hearers did, not to mean the literal 539 times (though that in itself would be quite a high standard!), but as a reflection of God’s own perfect forgiveness, that is, limitless. Peter approached Jesus with this question about his brother. What squabble had he and Andrew just had, that Peter would ask this? Whatever the answer, it’s a hopeful question, because it expresses Peter’s desire to forgive, even if at the moment, he may not have felt like it. While Christ doesn’t hold back in presenting the standard of his own heart regarding forgiveness, he does know our human condition and doesn’t demand that we deliver with perfection, but that we never cease trying, in love. 
  2. The Kingdom of Heaven: It’s interesting that Jesus uses this passage to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. It seems to deal with very unheavenly matters–stewards, material responsibilities, money, prisons, and debt–all less than spiritual things. But perhaps it actually enlightens essential aspects of God’s kingdom among us. God makes his kingdom present even now, in this, our world; it is not an abstract, unreal ephemeral place, nor is it utterly beyond our reach. He himself has come to bring his kingdom, to make present the mystery of his very Person within our world, sanctifying it. It’s a kingdom in which how we live, forgive, and accept mercy matters, as if these are the very passageway between the kingdom as we know it here and the fullness of that kingdom which we will one day know in heaven. 
  3. Forgiveness as God-like Love: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” This last question of the king toward his steward should also give us pause. Forgiveness, compassion, mercy: whether in life’s most dire or daily moments, these can be among the most difficult virtues to live. Yet God does not ask of us anything which he himself has not first done for us. Forgiveness is perhaps the greatest act of love, for it comes from a place of hurt—is this not a small form of redemption, taking flesh in the Christian life? What more God-like love could exist than this? What is a surer route to union with his heart or making present the mystery of his kingdom in our own lives and the world than this? 

Conversing with Christ: Lord, Jesus, remind me of your goodness toward me and let this be the source of forgiveness and compassion that you ask me to extend to others. As I look outward to others, let me daily experience your loving gaze toward me. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will strive to forgive from the heart the little or great wrongs that have been done to me. 

For Further Reflection: Spe Salvi, paragraph 33: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI references St. Augustine’s commentary on the purification that God brings about in the human heart, pouring out the vinegar that fills the vessel of our hearts, in order that he may fill it with the honey of his tenderness. 

Beth Van de Voorde is a Regnum Christi Consecrated Woman, currently serving in pastoral ministry to families in Madrid, Spain. When she’s not reading Ratzinger or humming along to some song or another, you may find her making her pilgrim way through Spain’s timeless history of faith, walking alongside the beautiful families she’s there to serve.

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