19 Sep Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2017
Deacon Blaine Barclay
In last week’s gospel we had Jesus teaching us about mutual accountability and correction in the context of genuine community; the capacity of his living body, the Church, to bind and loose on earth and in heaven; the risk of moral relativism; as well as Jesus’ promise to be with us wherever two or three are gathered in his name. This context raised the question about the limits of mercy and forgiveness. In response to this teaching Peter probably thinks he is being generous when he asks, ‘’How often should I forgive my brother or sister if they sin against me? As many as seven times?’’ Jesus immediately overturns or subverts this claim of human generosity when he says in response. ’’Not seven times, but seventy-seven times’’. The depth of God’s mercy, the bottomless tenderness of God’s compassion and forgiveness are without measure. By comparison they seem to cancel out our still measured generosity. Jesus then goes on to illustrate this measureless abyss of mercy with yet another parable of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Parables as a rule are meant to overturn, to subvert, our habitual everyday way of understanding ourselves and our world. To open the crack where the light gets in. To open the listener to the conversion of lifestyle that the Kingdom calls for. For the Kingdom of Heaven is not just a teaching, a doctrine, a theoretical construct that we believe in or assent to, but more like an habitual cluster of practices or moral virtues that witnesses to the transforming power of grace in our lives. Over and over again, in a whole variety of ways, Jesus teaches that the heart of the, ’Good News’ of the Kingdom is the practice of mercy and forgiveness. Not just our reception ‘of’, or our belief ‘in’ the mercy of God towards us, as important as this assent is, but precisely in our tender-hearted mercy, our bottomless compassion towards others. If our heart is not moved by the pain of the other, by the face of the other, how can we claim to have experienced the very mercy we say we believe in? ’’Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’’, we pray in the Our Father. Or, as the letter of James puts it, ’’There will be judgement without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves’’. He continues, ’’but the merciful has no fear of judgement’’.(James 2:13). From the Gospel of Luke, ’’Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap, for the measure you give will be the measure you get back’’. The heart of the gospel is ’’Mercy’’. ’A revolution of tenderness, as Pope Frances puts it.
This is how God overturns and subverts the present world order, the kingdoms of this world. With the tenderized, transformed heart; a heart of flesh, not of stone, a heart of mercy. How does our parable of the unforgiving servant illustrate this teaching? First of all, the King forgives the crooked slave an unfathomable debt. Ten thousand talents. A ‘talent’ was a unit of measure in the ancient world. One ‘talent’ was 75 pounds of silver. One author says that 10,000 talents was the equivalent of 200,000 years wages. I can’t even wrap my head around that amount of debt. Does this not illustrate the bottomless compassion of the tender mercy of our God?
The heart of this crooked bureaucrat, this unforgiving slave, should have been transformed by the experience of such measureless mercy. The fact that it was not should give us pause. Has my heart been tenderized by my own experience of the depth of God’s merciful love for me? How do I express this in the tenderness, the solicitude, the merciful presence, the love that I show to others, especially the poor, the naked, the sick, but also my own family, spouse, colleagues, fellow parishioners? ’’I never knew you’’, says Jesus to those who do not show mercy. ’’I never knew you’, and, obviously, ’you never knew me’. Notice the unforgiving servant’s hardness of heart toward their neighbour, their fellow slave who owes them, by comparison, a paltry sum, one hundred denarii, a mere three months wages for a day labourer, more for a peasant, but still nothing in comparison to their own prior experience of mercy. May each of our hearts be so moved by the tenderness of God toward us that we, in turn, will become revolutionaries of such tenderness towards others.