Lectio Divina: Matthew 18:21-19,1
1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
Your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 18:21-19:1
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? 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 his brother from his heart." When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
• In yesterday’s Gospel we have heard the words of Jesus concerning fraternal correction (Mt 18:15-20). In the Gospel today (Mt 19:21-39) the central theme is pardon and reconciliation.
• Matthew 18:21-22: Forgive seventy times seven! Before the words of Jesus on fraternal correction and reconciliation, Peter asks, “How often must I forgive? Seven times?” Seven is a number which indicates perfection and, in the case of Peter’s proposal, seven is synonymous with always. But Jesus goes beyond. He eliminates whatever possible limitation there may be to pardon: “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times”. It is as if He would say “Always, Peter! Even seventy seven times! Always!” This is because there is no proportion between God’s love for us and our love for our brother. Here we recall the episode of the Old Testament of Lamech: “Lamech says to his wives, Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; listen to what I say: I killed a man for wounding me, a boy for striking me. Sevenfold vengeance for Cain, but seventy-sevenfold for Lamech” (Gen 4:23-24). The task of the communities is to reverse the process of the spiral of violence. In order to clarify His response to Peter, Jesus tells them the parable of pardon without limits.
• Matthew 18:23-27: The attitude of the master. This parable is an allegory, that is, Jesus speaks about a master, but thinks of God. This explains the enormous contrasts in the parable. As we will see, although it is a question of daily ordinary things, there is something in this story which does not take place in daily life. In the story which Jesus tells, the master follows the norms of the law or rights of that time. It was his right to take a laborer with all his family and to keep him in prison until he had paid his debt carrying out his work as a slave. But in response to the request of the debtor servant, the master forgives the debt. What strikes us is the amount: ten thousand talents! One talent was equal to 35 kg, and so according to the estimate made, ten thousand talents were equal to 350 tons of gold. Even if the debtor and his family had worked their whole life, they would never have been able to earn 350 tons of gold. The extreme estimate is made on purpose. Our debt before God is countless and unpayable!
• Matthew 18:28-31: The attitude of the laborer. As soon as he went out, that servant found a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii, and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him, saying, “ Pay what you owe!” This servant owed him one hundred denarii; that is the salary of one hundred days of work. Some have estimated that it was a question of 30 grams of gold. There was no comparison between the two! But this makes us understand the attitude of the laborer: God forgives him 350 tons of gold and he is not able to forgive 30 grams of gold. Instead of forgiving, he does to the companion what the master could have done to him, but did not do it. He puts his companion in prison according to the norms of the law until he has paid his debt. This is an inhuman attitude, which also strikes the other companions. Seeing what had happened, the other servants were sad and went to report to their master everything which had happened. We also would have done the same; we would also have had the same attitude of disapproval.
• Matthew 18:32-35: The attitude of God “Then the master called that man and said to him: “You wicked servant! I have forgiven you all your debt because you appealed to me. Were you not bound then to have pity on your fellow-servant just as I had pity on you? And, angry, the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.” Before God’s love who pardons gratuitously our debt of 350 tons of gold, it is more than fair that we should forgive our brother who has a small debt of 30 grams of gold. God’s forgiveness is without limit. The only limit for the gratuity of God’s mercy comes from us, from our incapacity to forgive our brothers! (Mt 18:34). This is what we say and ask for in the Our Father: “Forgive us our offenses as we forgive those who offend us” (Mt 6:12-15).
The community: an alternative place of solidarity and fraternity. The society of the Roman Empire was hard and heartless, without any space for the little ones. They sought some refuge for the heart and did not find it. The synagogues were very demanding and did not offer a place for them. In the Christian communities, the rigor of some concerning the observance of the Law in daily life followed the same criteria as society and as the synagogue. Thus, in the communities, the same divisions which existed in society and in the synagogue, between rich and poor, dominion and submission, man and woman, race and religion, began to appear. The community, instead of being a place of acceptance, became a place of condemnation. By uniting the words of Jesus, Matthew wants to enlighten the followers of Jesus, in order that the communities may be an alternative place of solidarity and of fraternity. They should be Good News for the poor.
4) Personal questions
• To forgive. There are people who say, “I forgive, but I do not forget!” And I? Am I able to imitate God?
• Jesus gives us the example. At the time of death He asks pardon for His murderers (Lk 13:34). Am I capable of imitating Jesus?
• The laborer acted out of fear in the moment rather than generosity and forgiveness. How often, perhaps in “office politics”, do we do the same thing? What is the better way?
5) Concluding Prayer
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
praised be the name of Yahweh!
Supreme over all nations is Yahweh,
supreme over the heavens His glory. (Ps 113:3-4)