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Fernando Armellini - Sun, Sep 17th 2023



‘Do not break the tenuous link of friendship because, once broken, even if later you fix it, there is always a remnant.’ This was the advice that my elementary school teacher gave me that has remained in my memory. It comes to mind every time I become aware of contrast, misunderstanding, and disagreement. It upsets me to think that a mistake is enough to forever put an end to a friendship or a relationship, which the Bible calls the “balm of life” (Sir 6:16). “Like a bird, you have let your friend go, you will not get him back. Do not pursue him, he is far away” (Sir 27:19-20). The evil forces that make the bond of broken love irretrievable are the inability to forgive and the fear of giving complete confidence to someone who did wrong.

We forgive ourselves with difficulty: we torment ourselves with remorse. We do not accept the humiliation of weakness. We drag our fault behind as an unexploded, dangerously undetonated bomb. Only those who have a peaceful relationship with themselves can recognize their own mistake. They know that a positive recovery from a bitter experience of sin is possible.

We cannot forgive others. The disappointment, the delusion of betrayal, and the fear that it may be repeated are too big. The urge to break the relationship and to take revenge for the offense suffered is almost unrestrainable. Sucked into this whirlwind of passion and resentment, we let the greatest joy escape. It is the joy that God also experiences a hundredfold when he manages to revive a love relationship. Even to old people, he always gives them the opportunity to start again, giving them back their perennial youth.


  • To internalize the message, we repeat:

“Our resentments do not prevail, but the action of your Spirit does.”


First Reading: Sirach 27:30?28:7      

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults. 


Whoever feels they are a victim of some injustice instinctively tends to attack those responsible for it. The settling of scores, anger, resentment, and hatred starts there. But in giving free rein to these passions, are cases of abuse remedied or made worse? Throughout history, various answers have been given to this question. In times past, the methods of compensation for the wrong done and deterrence from harming others has been rather brusque. One was retaliation, another payback with interest. The most famous example of this limitless revenge is that of Lamech, the son of Cain. He was the first polygamist who sang before his two wives: “I killed a man for wounding me and a boy for striking me. If Cain will be avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Gen 4:23-24).

A natural step on from this brutal reaction is the famous law reform: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth … a wound for wound” (Ex 21:24). The commentary on the Gospel of the seventh Sunday says that it is not an invitation to return the evil but ensure that the punishment is fair. The Old Testament did not stop at this reasonable, legitimate, but still primitive justice. In the Book of Leviticus, it is ordered: “Do not seek revenge or nurture a grudge against one of your people; but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). It is the zenith of the wisdom of the sages of Israel. The passage proposed to us today moves along this line.

Sirach—full of wisdom derived from his experience—addresses the disciple. From man to man, he tries to convince him to avoid the irrational behavior dictated by the desire for revenge, anger and resentment. These feelings are an abomination and create an impenetrable shield in the relationship between God and the human being. They keep them from talking to and understanding each other. He continues his reflection, inviting the disciple to go beyond simple justice and open the heart to mercy. The clemency towards those who have wronged—he says—is an indispensable prerequisite to pray and receive forgiveness from God. “If a man bears resentment against another, how can he ask God for healing?” (v. 3).

These are simple, clear and calm reflections. They accompany us right up to the threshold of God’sKingdom. They dispose us to listen to the word of Jesus that brings to perfection the wisdom already present in the Old Testament.

Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 


In the 14th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul deals with an urgent problem—how to resolve differences of opinion among community members? There were two groups of Christians in Rome: some—called by Paul the weak—were tied to the ancestors' traditions. They observed the days of fast, practiced austere asceticism, and abstained from some types of meat. The others—the strong—the most mature, felt constrained by the law of love for a brother or sister; as for the rest, they behaved as free people.

Because of these contrasting positions of traditionalists and innovators, several tensions in the community of Rome had occurred. The first accused the strong of permissiveness; they considered them to be of little virtue, unfaithful to the law of Moses. These, in turn, reacted strongly; they treated the weak as retrogrades, mentally obtuse, incapable of understanding the absolute novelty of the Gospel. How to build a peaceful coexistence between people of opposing beliefs? It was not easy (and it is not easy today either).

Paul, who belonged to the group of the strong, proposes two rules—one for each of the two groups. These are rules that, if followed, will lead toward mutual acceptance. He primarily speaks to those of his group, the strong, and calls for respect for the weak, for their rather old-fashioned religious practices, devotions, and the now obsolete traditions. The weak must also be careful not to prevaricate. The apostle demands that they refrain from judging the strong and thinking that whoever does not follow the ancestors' traditions is unfaithful to the Gospel (Rom 14:1-6). If the two groups follow these two norms, they can coexist peacefully; otherwise, misunderstanding, disagreement and tension will arise.

The following verses (vv. 7-9)—the only ones reported in today’s reading—present a principle that helps resolve conflict: the Christian must always keep in mind that they do not live for themselves, for the pursuit of self-interest, but for the Lord. Therefore, in his relationship with their brothers and sisters, they must never be guided by human considerations. They live and die ‘for the Lord.’


Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? 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 your brother from your heart.” 


In the explanation of the First Reading, we found that there was a gradual evolution in the way we react to insult and wrongdoing: it moved from the settlement of accounts to more equitable solutions and, ultimately, forgiveness.

At the time of Jesus, there was much insistence on the need to maintain peaceful relations. It condemned revenge, anger, resentment and required reconciliation. The spiritual leaders taught that those in the wrong must recognize their error and beg forgiveness, and the offended person is obliged to grant it. If they refuse, the offender apologizes in front of two witnesses to prove that they have done everything possible to restore peace. If the offended one dies before the reconciliation, they who have done evil must go to their graves, and placing a stone, declare: ‘I have done wrong to you.’ The obligation to forgive was restricted to the members of the people of Israel and was limited. No more than three times—the rabbis affirmatively agreed—on the fourth, you had to resort to a legal remedy.

The question that opens today’s Gospel: “How many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” (v. 21) reveals that Peter understood that Jesus intends to go beyond the limits set by the scribes. He certainly remembers what was said in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother and then come back and offer your gift to God” (Mt 5:23-24) and “If you forgive others their wrongdoings, our Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others …” (Mt 6:14-15). He also presents another unequivocal statement of the Master: “If your brother offends you seven times in one day, but seven times he says to you, ‘I’m sorry,’ forgive him” (Lk 17:3-4).

Peter is baffled: the number seven indicates totality. Must we, by chance, always forgive and without condition? He asks for confirmation of what he begins to perceive (v. 21). The answer of Jesus goes beyond that which already scares Peter: “No, not seven times (that is always) but seventy times seven (even more than always)” (v. 22). It refers to the scornful and mocking words of Lamech, who boasted of revenge without limit. Resuming, Jesus wants to teach that forgiveness should reach infinity, as the arrogance of the son of Cain reached infinity. To clarify his thoughts, he tells a parable (vv. 23-35).

A debtor who owed 10,000 talents was presented to the king. The talent is about 36 kilograms of gold; its value multiplied by 10,000—the highest value in the Greek language—from a huge sum that corresponds to the salary of 200,000 years of work, 2,400,000 payrolls. It is unthinkable that someone could repay such an amount.

The Bible uses 20 images to describe sin. In the last centuries before Christ, another one was added that had come to prevail: the debt owed to God. The simple people always felt they were in arrears with their payments. Prayer, sacrifice, offering, fasting and good works were never enough to compensate for the countless violations of the law. They were all the more indebted to the Lord. Only the Pharisees were convinced that they had the accounting in order. Theirs is a tragic illusion because—as Paul declares, although he had lived so blamelessly— “all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). A human being is an insolvent debtor before God.

Showing a generosity without limit, the master of the parable—who represents God—touched by the plight of his servant, dissolves all the debt. There is no sin that God cannot forgive; there is no fault superior to his immense love. Paul also uses the same image: God “has canceled the record of our debts, those regulations which accused us. He did away with all that and nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). How did the person accumulate such exorbitant debt? Perhaps by accepting the many gifts offered to him by the Lord? It could not be a free gift, as that does not incur a debt. So is it about—as the rabbis thought—sin, transgression? This interpretation does not satisfy, and we will see why.

In the second part of the story (vv. 28-30), another servant who owes the first 100 denarii enters. It is a considerable sum—equivalent to the same number of working days—but paltry compared with that dissolved by the king.

The second debtor addresses the same prayer to his colleague and hopes to get the same compassion. However, the merciless servant grabs him by the neck and begins to choke him, saying: give me what you owe!

The central message of the parable is to be sought—obviously—in the huge disproportion between the two debts and in the stark contrast between the behavior of God, who always forgives, and that of the man who demands restitution to the last farthing. The image of suffocation gives a good idea of the psychological subjection to which the one who did wrong is reduced. As a ruthless creditor, he has the offender ‘in his hand’ and can take his breath away, and the joy of living, with a call, with the simple allusion to the sin committed.

The parable might suggest that we are responsible for enormous sins while subjected to uncouth behavior from our brothers and sisters. Instead, we are confident that the opposite often occurs: we have committed only a few slight offenses, while others have caused serious damage. This is not a calculation on the consistency of the wrong suffered. Jesus is interested in highlighting the enormous distance between God’s heart and man’s, between his love and ours.

Sin is not a simple mistake but breaking the covenant relationship and spousal love that binds people to God. If we keep in mind that the disciple is called to “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48), it is easy to guess that the ‘debt’ against him is horrific (as the 10,000-talent debt is unpayable). In comparison, the distance that separates the greatest saint from the worst sinner is negligible, and the barrier can be crossed (as the repayment of 100 denarii is realistic).

We ask the Father to ‘forgive our debt’ in prayer. The sins that we have committed do not represent all of our debt. They relate to the past, and they are not infinite. They are only a small sign of the immense distance that separates us from the love of the Father. This is the debt that we ask God to cover. Our prayer, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ is not just about past mistakes but is mainly directed to the future.

What does God expect from us? His very own ‘compassion’: He wants us not to treat a brother or sister as a slave of his past. He wants us not to take their breath away while they desperately try to rise up from the deep. God asks us to help them 70 times seven, renouncing any recourse against them. The children of the Kingdom of God are “merciful as the heavenly Father” (Lk 6:36), and they understand that “love does not delight in wrong, excuses everything, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:5-7). Whoever takes ownership of this new logic is willing to lose, to forget all their own rights just to see their brother or sister happy again, peaceful, and freed from their sin.

The last scene gives us the shudders (vv. 31-35). How the servant whose debt was forgiven treats his colleague causes the disgusted master uncontrollable anger. He orders him to be called before him, reproaches his wickedness, and puts him in the hands of the torturers. They have to torture him until he pays what he owes. The conclusion is puzzling: “So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”

Does this mean the Lord repays with the same coin those who are ruthless with their ‘debtors?’ Such an interpretation would contradict the whole message of the parable that wishes to present a God who always forgives human transgressions. We are faced with a story wherein dramatic images are used. The preachers of the time of Jesus often introduced them to shake their audience and highlight the importance of a particular message. The evangelist is not describing what God will do in the end but presents what he wants the people of today to do. In order not to distort the message of Jesus it is, therefore, necessary to clean the parable of strong colors with which the cultural Semitic language of 2,000 years ago has covered it. It would be blasphemous to interpret it as a description of the behavior of the Father who is in heaven.


READ: In life and death, we belong to the Lord. Hence, grudge and wrath towards others shall not have a place in us. If God shows mercy to us, we are bound to show mercy to others, as the parable of the unforgiving servant says.


REFLECT: Why does the servant who was forgiven an enormous debt get wrathful and unforgiving towards his servant who owed him very little? The truth is, being a recipient of mercy does not always evoke gratitude and humility but sometimes results in shame and anger, especially when one is egoistic and feels the lesser before the forgiving one. We can accept mercy only when we love and respect the one who shows compassion and feel a kinship with him. Then we are ready to share mercy with others and feel a kinship with them as well.


PRAY: Pray for the grace of humility to accept God’s mercy and share the same with others. Remember those who have hurt us and need our forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace to be reconciled.


ACT: Time heals, but often we let opportunities pass us by. Reach out with love and compassion in your heart; forgive someone who has wronged you.




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