Christ the King Catholic Church
Every time we gather for Mass, we pray the Lord's Prayer. And we preface that prayer with the words: "We dare to say... " While the translation of certain parts of the Mass have been tweaked over the years, we have kept that phrase to introduce the Our Father.
When I was a kid, I thought it was a strange way to introduce such an important prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, this is the prayer that Jesus taught them. It is in some way, the Reader's Digest version of the Gospel. I always picture Jesus' mind raising to give his disciples this prayer, knowing that their attention span was limited. He packed as much as he could into a few short sentences, And so, every line of the Lord's Prayer is important. Every line reveals the mind and heart of Jesus.
Fast forward a few decades and I understand why we preface the Lord's Prayer with the words, "We dare to say... " The words in that prayer are a challenge to us. They are a challenge to us to live as Jesus lived. To trust God as a good and loving Father. To call God 'our' Father, recognizing that I don't have an exclusive claim on God's love and care. To pray that God's will, and not mine, be done.
But nowhere is the challenge greater than in the words, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are challenging God to treat us as we treat others. We are actually asking God to forgive us as much, or as little, as we forgive others. No wonder we 'dare' to pray in this way! I don't know about you, but I sure hope that God is more merciful, more compassionate and more forgiving to me, than I am to others.
In today's Gospel Peter comes to Jesus with a question. It's an important question. "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?" And without waiting for Jesus' response, Peter asks if seven times is enough. My bet is that Peter is trying to repair his image in :front of the other Apostles. Remember, just last week, Jesus called Peter 'Satan', and told him to get behind him. So, Peter has some damage control to do. I don't know if image consultants existed in first century Palestine, but Peter sounds like he had consulted one.
The conventional teaching of the rabbis was that a person was obligated to forgive a person up to three times. After that, all bets were off. That idea of three strikes and you're out came from the Prophet Amos who once said that God would not punish rebellious nations until after their third offense. And so, the rabbis thought that if three was a good number for God, it should be OK for us.
But to make sure that he is on safe ground, Peter extends the number three to seven. I imagine he thought that his answer would win him the admiration of his fellow Apostles and a pat on the back from Jesus.
But instead Jesus shocks Peter and his fellows by saying, "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Some translations report Jesus as saying seventy times seven times, which would be 490 times. Jesus did not literally mean 77 or 490 times. The number seven implied a fullness, a completeness, to the Jews and so Jesus is saying that there is no limit to our forgiveness, we must always be ready to show mercy.
The rabbis reasoned that the number of times a person should expect forgiveness was dependent on the number of times they believed God forgives us. If God forgives us three times, we should only have to forgive a brother or sister three times. But Jesus reverses that logic in the parable in today's Gospel. He teaches us that God's forgiveness depends on our willingness to forgive others. Ifwe forgive those who have offended us, God also will forgive us. But the converse is also true. If we hold a grudge or seek revenge, if we withhold mercy from others, we cannot expect God to be merciful to us.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are asking God to forgive as much or as little as we forgive others.
Jesus came into the world to reconcile us to God and to one another. Why does Jesus ask us to forgive? Ultimately, Jesus asks us to forgive because it is an intrinsic part of overcoming evil in the world. Without forgiveness there can be no true reconciliation and peace. In these days of civil unrest, we hear many slogans. Among them is, "No justice, no peace." And that is true. That slogan is rooted in the admonitions of the Old Testament prophets and was spoken by Pope Paul VI in
1965 when he became the first pope in history to address the United Nations. He told the world, "If you want peace, work for justice." And that struggle for justice is an important one to which we must all commit ourselves.
But if we truly seek peace, there can be no way to that peace apart from reconciliation, apart from forgiveness. Revenge and retaliation neither correct injustice, nor promote peace. As the Book of Sirach tells us, "Wrath and anger are hateful things. And unfortunately, wrath and anger are in ample supply in our society these days. Reconciliation and forgiveness, on the other hand, are in short supply, but only through forgiveness will we know true peace. Jesus challenges us to forgive, because it is the way that he conquered evil - the evil that nailed him to the cross 2,000 years ago.
The cross is the symbol of the greatest love the world has ever known. And the greatest love the world has ever known is an act of forgiveness. The One who teaches us to be merciful, has shown mercy. From the cross Jesus preaches his final sermon and among his last words were, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
The Lord asks us to forgive, because he has forgiven us. And that is the point of the parable that Jesus uses in today's Gospel. A man who owes a tremendous debt, a debt he could never repay, is forgiven that debt in a great act of mercy. But then, instead of cancelling the debt of a fellow servant, he demands strict justice of that fellow servant, he demands strict justice from that fellow servant and has him thrown in jail.
And, of course, our first reaction is, "What a miserable, ungrateful human being!" But, then, our second reaction is, and this is the power of a parable, "That man is me!" I am the person who has been forgiven a debt I could not possibly repay. I am the person who has had his entire cancelled, but, then, has expected strict justice, a pound of flesh, from others.
We preface the 'Our Father' with the words, "We dare to pray... " When we pray as Jesus taught is to pray, we are dared to love others as we have been loved. We are dared to show others the mercy we have been shown. We are dared to forgive as we have been forgiven.
When I was young, I didn't understand why we 'dared' to pray the Lord's Prayer. Fast forward a few decades, and it becomes all too clear.
God dares us, even double dares us, to live the words we will pray this afternoon, When we will dare to say, "Forgive us our trespasses, as much or as little, as we forgive those who trespass against us.