Impossible Sums

Feb. 26

Readings: Dan 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35

"So will My heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." Mt 18:35

The Hebrew word for seven closely resembles the word for "complete," "full," or "perfect" - making it a ready symbol for those meanings.

Matthew's audience - Jewish Christians - is familiar with Hebrew Scriptures. They would recall the vengeful warning of Lamech, "If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold" (Gen 4:24). So, Matthew records Jesus' lesson to Peter on how often to forgive: "not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (v. 22). Jesus plainly replaces overflowing vengeance with overflowing forgiveness.

The ensuing parable also includes a huge number - a debt of ten thousand talents. It amounts to more than the slave could possibly repay in his lifetime. After his master erases this impossible debt, we soon see that the slave didn't embrace the master's benevolent example. He imprisons a fellow servant over a much smaller debt - amounting to perhaps 100 days' wages.

Staggering! The impossible debt is forgiven, but not the small one! The master hears of this outrage and punishes the ungrateful slave. Listeners to this story would not have been surprised by this outcome.

What is surprising? The rest of the story. Like the master in the parable, God has already forgiven us our debts. But we will be held accountable if we don't forgive one another.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a "daunting" warning about this. God's "outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us" (2839-40).

Do you think this is too harsh? Consider this: God has forgiven us more than seventy-seven times. And the debt He paid on our behalf is incalculable. What price tag would you put on heaven?

My dear Lord and Savior, help me to be truly grateful for the debt that You have erased by forgiving my sins. Help me to consider the smallness of offenses against me compared to that debt. Amen.

Mt 6:14-15
Mk 11:25


Diary of St. Faustina
390, 1148

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