“The only way to let go is the way of mercy, the way of forgiveness, the way that doesn’t say that it didn’t matter, that thing is not significant. Yes, it happened and it was crucial and it was awful, but still from my side of the street, I have that obligation to let it go.”
Learning how to forgive is surely one of those art forms, that takes a long time, a lot of suffering, a lot of love, a lot of experiences, a lot of learning from others who do it well – because it’s not something that comes naturally. We’re good at counting naturally. We’re good at knowing when my brother’s portion of cake is bigger than my portion of cake. We are able to to make those discernments and those judgments. But learning to let go, learning to actually surrender and release things, that’s another story entirely. And we get impressed when we hear wonderful stories that capture forgiveness. One of my favorite authors is a Maronite Catholic called Alexander Shia, a biblical scholar, and he tells the story of growing up in the south of the US, in Alabama. He’s Maronite, so he comes from a Lebanese background and for people in the southern states of the US at that time in the 1950s and 60s, that was considered that you were colored, that you were a foreigner, you were a black, even though of course now we were just think, no, they’re just the Europeans essentially.
But he tells the story that his grandmother’s house was the central focus of all of their family’s lives. Every Sunday they would gather there after Mass and have this wonderful feast that the grandmother would prepare and all the clan would gather around her table to tell the stories and to just to to share the wonders of God’s love and family and all of that. But one Saturday nights, they he stories of the fire brigade and someone has got into his grandmother’s house and gathered all of her religious books, all of her images of Our Lady, all of her crucifixes, everything that was there. They put it all into the center of her, her own living room and said, fire to all of those religious objects. And then, of course, the whole house then burnt to the ground. And as far as they knew, grandma was there at home at the time. And so they were just all in shock and just they couldn’t believe what had happened and how outraged they were. And there were rumors that it was the Ku Klux Klan, that it had done this as an act of of racial violence against their family.
But it turned out that grandma had actually gone to church. There was a special novena that was being prayed that night. So she went to church. So the next Sunday, she gathered all the family together. She wanted to continue that tradition. They couldn’t do it, of course, in her house. That was gone. But they gathered in the basement of one of the aunts houses. And as she began, she said, okay, let’s take time to pray. And so she asked them just to have a moment of silence, just to to really reflect upon the week, all of the shock, all of the things that that had happened. And then she began before she prayed. Grace, She just said, look, no hate, no hate, no hate. She said, look, we could hate the people who did this. We could hate the people who who did such an act of violence, who threatened my very life and destroyed everything that was so precious and dear to me. But we cannot live on hate.
We cannot give them that gift of hating. In return, we have to forgive. And Alexander, even though he was only a boy of seven, said that just so deeply impressed him. Just the attitude of his grandmother, that ability to let go, to surrender and forgive, because we love clinging onto things. We love holding on to these old resentments, these old hurts. But the only way of freedom, the only way that we can experience anything that approaches this sense of being released is to let go, is to not hold on to those old hatreds. You know, when a person maligned me, when that person says that terrible thing about me or when I do something that is just stupid and and I feel so consumed by regret and guilt about something that I had done. And so this question that Peter asks, you know, is a powerful question. It’s in response, of course, to what we we heard last week, all of those experiences of forgiveness and mercy. How do we possibly do that? And we read in the Torah, we read in the Old Testament that, you know, a righteous person was expected to forgive up to three times.
Once was a pretty normal; two times was pretty generous. Three times that was kind of seen as the limit of God’s mercy. And so it should be the limit also of our own mercy. And so Peter is generous in saying as many as seven times, Lord, you know, he’s more than doubling what is provided by the written law of the Torah. But Jesus, Jesus won’t have anything about counting a certain number. He says, No, not seven times, I tell you, but 77 times. And it’s almost this echo of this passage is awful passage that we have when things begin to really unravel after the fall, after Adam and Eve had sinned, after the Cain and Abel Cain had killed his brother. And we get this story of Lamech in Genesis five, where he says, you know, for seven times this person has rung me well 77 times, will I avenge this? And so this whole undoing that Jesus does that, he takes that rule and he completely brings this healing and this this new dimension, this new possibility that he offers to us, this gift of grace, this gift of mercy.
The parable, of course, is told in these three parts. First, this servant who has built up this unimaginably huge debt, 10,000 talents, is just an extraordinary number that’s meant to just everyone would have laughed at such an extraordinary number, and so would we. Until the financial crises that we’ve had in the last few years, a talent was essentially how much you would earn over the whole lifetime of working. You know, a denarius was how much you would earn with one day’s pay. So 100 was about four months worth of of your labor. So it’s not inconsiderable. It’s certainly you would miss four months wages if you suddenly lost it. But in comparison to 10,000 times the amount of money that you would earn over the whole lifetime, you know, you kind of think of it as $10,000 million. That’s, you know, that’s a considerable sum of money. Indeed. So the two servants are just they can’t be this chalk and cheese. They’re just in this tiny little amount and this huge, vast amount.
And yet the king, the king is extraordinary. I mean, perhaps he knows that there’s no chance, even if he sells this person sells the whole family sells all their possessions. He’s not going to recoup anything near the 10,000 talents is actually owed to him. So he might as well offer this grand gesture and and forgive all of the person’s debt because he knows that there’s no hope that this person will be able to repay it. And so he does. He offers mercy. He shows this extraordinary level of forgiveness. And yet this person hasn’t changed at all. This scheming, conniving kind of person who’s skimmed the money left and right to be able to to build up a debt of such huge proportions. And yet when he goes out and he sees this other servant who owes him this smaller amount, there’s no hint of mercy, no hint of any change. We can see. Of course, quite clearly the way that Jesus is telling the story we who have seen so many times, so we’ve done so much wrong in our lives and we’ve received this abundant mercy of God.
Surely we owe some small measure of sharing in that mercy. You know, unless we learn the way of forgiveness, unless we learn the way of mercy, we will just continue to cling to all these little resentments and they’ll build and build, and we will become such shriveled and incomplete people because our lives are just consumed and overtaken by all these old wounds and old mis measures and things that we we have to forgive. We have to let go. We have to surrender. There’s no other way for Christian to live except in the flow of God’s mercy, to let go of all of these things and to receive the mercy of God, but to share that mercy, to continue to to receive and give, to receive and give. It’s the way of life, the way of forgiveness. Let’s just take a moment to to really think about something that we’re holding on to, some old wound that we continue to to allow to fester, that, you know, past resentment that we still are holding onto.
I know when I hear confessions, when I talk to people that all of us have these old wounds that we just cling to, imagining that somehow something will happen that will make it all right. It won’t. The only way to let go is the way of mercy, the way of forgiveness, the way that doesn’t say that it didn’t matter that that thing is not significant. Yes, it happened. And it was it was crucial and it was awful. But. Still from my side of the street. I have that obligation to let it go. Maybe it takes time. Maybe it will be writing about it, journaling about it, working through with a counselor or therapist to to be able to come to that place, bringing it up in the sacrament of reconciliation, talking to a spiritual director. It’s not something that should be just dismissed, but it’s something we need to deal with, something we need to let go of, something that we need to be free from. And if there is anything in our lives that continue to eat away, today is the day that we can begin that journey of surrendering it, letting it go, and allowing the forgiveness and the mercy of God to bring us to a place of freedom and release today.