Homily August 17th, 2023

Thursday of the 19th Week of Ordinary Time – Option 2 – Mt 18:21–19:1

            Today’s Gospel brings us face to face with the reality of sin and the need to forgive. Peter asks if forgiving his brother seven times is sufficient: recall that in Genesis Cain was to be avenged seven times over, and his son Lamech seventy-seven times,[1] and that the later rule of law was often “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” Hence Peter understood that his offer was rather generous. In light of the New Testament, however, and Christ’s saving death on the Cross, we could say that the entire universe undergoes a re-evaluation, a new pricing in light of Christ.

            In the parable, the servant’s debt is really quite huge: although the translation says simply “a large amount,” the Greek says “ten thousand talents.” Now, the entire region of Palestine used to pay about 800 talents in taxes per year to the Romans, so the amount owed is truly fantastic. Note, however, the servant’s response: “Be patient with me,” he tells his master, “and I will pay you back in full.” Those who know say it probably would’ve taken the servant twenty years just to earn a single talent; in other words, he really has no idea of the debt that he owes the master. He completely lacks perspective.

            What happens next fulfills what Saint Augustine notes in a sermon: “Men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticize, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.” “The less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others.”

            In our lives, then, we need to do two things: first, we need to recall our sins, not in such a way as to make ourselves miserable or doubt God’s mercy, but in a way that reminds us that we are sinners too, and that God has been very merciful with us. We are weak, and, as Saint Claude de la Colombiere writes, we have in ourselves the seed of every vice; there’s not any vice that we are incapable of committing. It is only God’s grace that keeps us pure. It’s this that keeps us from being scandalized at the sins of others.

            Secondly, we see the need to forgive others. In an essay from 1947 C. S. Lewis explains how our forgiveness must be like God’s: “[Our forgiveness] is the same [as God’s forgiveness] because here also forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them, you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out).”

            Saint Jane Frances Chantal gives us a model of that forgiveness. In 1601, Jane’s husband, Christophe, was accidentally killed in a hunting accident. He forgave the man who shot him before he died, but Jane struggled for many years to forgive. She and her husband were deeply devoted to each other through their seven years of marriage. She spent four months at her home mourning his loss. . . . Jane took a vow of chastity after her husband’s death and worked on forgiving the man who killed him. It took time and effort. She finally was able to forgive him after hearing a Lenten sermon by the bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. His sermon focused on the love of God and moved Jane’s heart to a spirit of forgiveness. She moved on from her hard-heartedness so completely that she became the godmother of the man’s child. That experience of hearing Francis de Sales for the first time was a turning point in her life and her sorrowing, and eventually she founded the order of the Visitation, and became the saint we know today.

            Let us pray, through the intercession of Mary, the Model of Forgiveness, for the grace to recall our sins in such a way so as to be ever-amazed at God’s mercy and ever-ready to forgive others.


[1] Cf. Gn 4:24.

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