First Reading: Sir 27:30-28:7; Psalm: 103. R. v. 8; Second Reading: Rm 14:7-9; Gospel: Mt 18:21-35
ONLY THE CONTRITE FORGIVES
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“Kindness radiates. It subdues our egoism to see in others our very selves; beneficiaries of undeserved charity now compelled to requite.” (Anonymous).
Kindness or generosity has a very powerful effect. When we receive kindness from God or from people in whatever form especially in an extraordinary way; it radiates from us some feelings of joy and gratitude. This is usually a time we are easily inclined to loosen our tightened fist to be kind to others in some little ways in that moment of ecstasy. We have seen couples who after several years of unfruitful marriage, called a party to celebrate the blessing of a new baby. We have seen people who celebrate with friends and acquaintances in thanksgiving to God for the blessing of a new house or a new car. When fortune smiles on us, we are very liable to respond with kindness.
And this brings us to the parable of today’s gospel. If kindness radiates kindness, what then happened to the wicked servant who had his debts waived off by his master when he pleaded for mercy because he could not pay back? Why was he so hardened, wicked and unforgiving to his fellow servant as a beneficiary of his master’s kindness and mercy? First of all, we need to understand in this parable that the wicked servant’s debt to his master represents our debts to God that we cannot pay yet God forgives us. And the second servant’s debt to the wicked servant represents the minor offences of others against us which we have to forgive because we are beneficiaries of God’s mercy.
Now, God cannot forgive us if we are not remorseful for our sins. Remorse is a precondition to God’s mercy. In fact, remorse or contrition is actually what predisposes and propels us to seek God’s mercy. For if we are not sorry for the sins we have committed; we will not ask for mercy or repent from them. Obviously, the wicked servant was not sincere when he said, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” He was really not going to pay anything, and he knew that. A man who accumulated such a huge amount of debt must be very crafty, wasteful, insincere and irresponsible. His plea was just an unending strategy to take advantage of his master’s generosity. Likewise, when we ask mercy from God without sincere remorse, it shows our pretence and unwillingness to repent from evil. We may go home thinking we have been forgiven. But there is actually no forgiveness without true contrition and compassion.
The point is that a heart that is truly remorseful or contrite is incapable of reserving any form of bitterness and unforgiveness within. A remorseful heart is a broken heart; a sorry heart seeking for mercy and forgiveness; a heart seeking to destroy the life of sin to rebuild the life of holiness. This kind of heart does not harbour any evil intentions, else it is not contrite. So, a true contrite heart has no business anymore with negative feelings against others. This makes the wicked servant culpable and lacking in contrition; for he proved it afterwards in the wicked manner he treated his fellow servant. The clearest way to receive God’s forgiveness is to be contrite; to seek to do good and to harbour no ill feelings against a neighbour.
There is a common philosophical axiom that says, “You cannot give what you don’t have.” Think of the action of this wicked servant. He went out and seized by the throat his fellow servant who owed him and even imprisoned him where he will be incapable to work or to pay him back. If this wicked servant couldn’t show mercy to his fellow servant after receiving pardon, then it means that he is not deserving of God’s mercy. For God’s mercy overwhelms and trumps every hatred and unforgiveness. When we choose the path of unforgiveness, we are completely not deserving of God’s mercy. For mercy denied is mercy renounced. We cannot give what we don’t have.
For every mercy of God taking for granted; for every mercy of God unrequited; we compound our punishment unless we repent and begin to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is why Jesus asks that we forgive seventy times seven times which implies unlimited number of times.
In certain circumstances, it may sound unreasonable to forgive. Like when our offender is unremorseful and is ready to hurt us even more; when the harm done to us was premeditated; or when our offender is a sadist who derives pleasure in hurting people. As unreasonable as it may sound to forgive people like this; it will cost us more not to forgive than to choose to forgive them.
To be sincere, it is not fair to say that forgiveness costs nothing. Because forgiveness opposes every desire we have for justice or to get even. You cannot tell a man whose right hand was chopped off that to forgive his offender would cost him nothing. But revenge would only lead to uncontrollable and endless reprisals. And “He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord.” (Sir 28:1). And to choose not to forgive causes emotional pain of anger, hate, hurt, resentment, bitterness and so on. So, we would actually be doing ourselves a lot of favour when we choose to forgive. We should forgive not because the other person needs it but because we need it most.
If our forgiveness is contingent on our offender’s remorse, we may not always forgive because not all offenders show remorse or ask forgiveness. So, why then should we forgive an unremorseful offender? Does God not require contrition from us as a precondition to his forgiveness? We can only require remorse as a necessity to forgiving others if we possessed the perfection of God. God does not only forgive us but he also seeks to save us; and this is why God requires us to be contrite of heart to receive his forgiveness. We do not only forgive others but we also seek to save our souls; and this is why our forgiveness should not be contingent on the remorse of our offenders. “Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments.” (Sir 28:6).
Rob was dying on his sick bed and sent for a priest to hear his confession. After receiving absolution from the priest, Rob sent for his wife to ask her forgiveness for he has been cheating on her for the past ten years. The wife said to him, “Don’t bother Rob, I have forgiven you. After all, you are not the father of our two kids. Your friend Jamie is.” Rob got enraged and rained litany of abuses on his wife and promised to wait for her in the pit of hell.
Those who forgive are those who are so contrite that they allow the mercy of God radiate from them. Forgive, not because the other person needs it but because you need it most.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for a true contrite heart for our offences against you so that we may be more disposed to forgive those who have wronged us. Amen.