‘Forgive your brother from your heart’ (Mt 18:21-35)

17th September 2017

Today’s gospel reading is one of the most challenging in the whole of the new testament because it brings us face to face with our difficulty to forgive, to show compassion, to avoid complaining and gossiping about others and revealing their weak points.

‘To err is human, to forgive is divine’ is a well known quote from “An Essay on criticism” by Alexander Pope and it points to the fact that it only by God’s grace that we can truly forgive in the way Christ forgave. Yes, we are called to imitate Jesus, the Son of God, in his capacity for patience, tolerance and forbearance with our neighbor. Reflecting on his meekness throughout his life and especially during the passion can help us pause and think. And yet how easy it is to complain, interiory or to others, about the perceived faults we see in others.

Christian formation needs to be an education of the heart if we are to heed the advice of the last sentence in today’s gospel: ‘And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart’. Mt 18:25

How easy it is to appear polite, patient, kind with another person whilst holding judgemental thoughts about that person in our hearts. It was even considered virtuous once upon a time to smile and speak pleasantly with someone we disliked whilst continuing to harbor angry, resentful or judgemental thoughts towards them in our hearts. And yet, it is what comes from the heart that renders a man clean or unclean (cf Mt 15:11; Mk 7:15) As Jesus says elsewhere, unless our goodness exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees (Mt 5:20), who always looked at outward appearances, or until we continue judging ourselves better than others (a direct result of judging others negatively) Lk 18:11-12 then we will have no part in his kingdom.

We will not belong to him and he will not know us for we will still be judging as men and women do and not as God does. God looks at the heart (cc 1 Samuel 16:17).  The first reading (Eccl 27:33-28:9) is full of admonitions to care for the heart: ‘If a man nurses anger against another…. Showing no pity for a man like himself….do not bear your neighbour ill-will…. stop hating, Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment…’ So let us choose to be forgiving, let us take care of the movements of our hearts, offering them to the Lord for radical heart surgery if necessary. Let us ask him to transform over time our angry, resentful, proud sentiments with his loving, patient, compassionate and kind ones. That way we may well find ourselves with less and less which we need to forgive our brothers and sisters for as we will see their weakness and shortcomings in a different light – God’s light.