NO MERCY WITHOUT MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Daniel 3:25-43; Ps 24:4-9; Matthew 18:21-35]
We are all in need of mercy. This is because we are all sinners. We are weak and often succumb to temptations, or simply because we have a wounded nature. We get angry. We are impatient. We are envious of those who are better than us because we feel insecure. We cannot control our appetites because we greedy. We steal and hoard because we are afraid that we do not have enough. Because of our biological drive for sexual union and intimacy we cannot resist the sin of lust. We are proud because we want independence, respect and control over others.
Therefore, being a sinner is a fact. Other than our Lord Jesus Christ and our Blessed Mother, no one is exempted from falling into sin. To think that we are without sin is to call God a liar. St John in no uncertain terms said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8) For this reason, we must be ever ready to forgive each other simply because we are fellow sinners. Hence, when Peter asked the Lord, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, seven being the complete number, it means “always”, without exception.
Forgiveness is something we cannot withhold from anyone. Firstly, God forgives us completely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) God is portrayed as the master who forgave the servant who owed him ten thousand talents, which is probably 7 billion US dollars in today’s terms. Of course this is an exaggeration. But it underscores the point that God loves us and has given us so much and have forgiven all our sins. He has paid the price for our sins with the blood of His only Son. (cf 1 Jn 1:7) So what audacity do we have to ask for God’s forgiveness for our many sins when we cannot forgive the weaknesses of our fellowmen?
Secondly, forgiving others is the only way to receive the full forgiveness given to us by God. Indeed, the Lord warns us, “And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.” By not forgiving, we are in truth not forgiving ourselves. Many of us fail to realize that healing can be complete only when we forgive those who have hurt us. Being forgiven by God is not enough. We are to be reconciled with God and with others. This explains why many go for confession asking for forgiveness for their sins and yet do not find true and lasting healing because they have not yet released their own grievances against those who hurt them. This was basically the sin of the merciless servant. The master forgave him for his enormous debt but he was not able to forgive the little debt his fellow servant owed him. As a consequence, when the master heard of he said, “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”
How is it that we find it so difficult to forgive? Firstly, it is because we are not fully aware of our own imperfections and sinfulness. We tend to look at others who sinned against us. Our eyes are always focused on others, judging them. Again the Lord warns us, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Mt 7:2) St James also warned us, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jms 2:13) If “the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt”, it was because it was necessary for him to learn about his own sins so that he could forgive the sins of others. The servant needs time to reflect for himself his own sins and God’s abundant mercy. Only then, could he truly forgive his fellow servant.
Indeed, the season of Lent is a time for us to reflect on our sins. If we find ourselves lacking forgiveness and not able to let go of our hurts, we should begin reflecting on ourselves, our own sins. We must keep the words of Jesus in mind. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7:3-5) Coming to consciousness of our many sins will help us to be more realistic in judging others. We will come to realize that we are actually even a worse sinner than them!
This was what the Israelites did in the first reading. Azariah reflected on the outcome of the sins of Israel. “Lord, now we are the least of all the nations, now we are despised throughout the world, today, because of our sins. We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince, no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense, no place where we can offer you the first-fruits and win your favour.” Through the consequences of their sins, they came to realize their mistakes. Instead of excusing themselves, he prayed, “may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you as holocausts of rams and bullocks, as thousands of fattened lambs: such let our sacrifice be to you today, and may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly, since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed.”
We too must make time to think through our own life. The real obstacle to healing is that not many of us spend sufficient time to reflect on our mistakes in life. When we have a break down in relationship, we only think of assigning blame to the other party. We are always excusing ourselves but not others. We only see things from our perspective and not from the other party. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of others if we are to see everything more objectively. Unless we learn from our lessons, we cannot grow in self-awareness and be purified in love. We need to be contrite for true healing to take place. With the Israelites, we pray, “And now we put our whole heart into following you, into fearing you and seeking your face once more. Do not disappoint us; treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle and very merciful. Grant us deliverance worthy of your wonderful deeds, let your name win glory, Lord.”
We must also avoid applying double standards with respect to our sins and the sins of others. Indeed, when it comes to our wrongs, we are ever ready to excuse ourselves and ask for leniency, like the unforgiving servant. But when it comes to the sins of others, we would not make excuses for them. We demand justice and punishment. We have no mercy for them. We are presumptuous and self-righteous. Indeed, those of us who use double standards in dishing out punishment to those who have done us wrong, but would forgive ourselves or our loved ones, show that we are partial in our judgements. How many of us would be like the legendary Justice Bao who would render judgement equally to all, without regard for the rich or poor, the powerful or the ordinary man?
Even then, God is no Justice Bao! He is not simply a just God but the God of mercy. His justice is His mercy! We can pray with confidence llike Azariah who say, “Oh! Do not abandon us forever, for the sake of your name; do not repudiate your covenant, do not withdraw your favour from us, for the sake of Abraham, your friend, of Isaac your servant, and of Israel your holy one, to whom you promised descendants as countless as the stars of heaven and as the grains of sand on the seashore.” God, like the master, is ever ready to excuse us as Jesus did on the cross when He prayed to His Father, “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing!” (Lk 23:34) Truly, the psalmist says, “Remember your mercy, Lord, and the love you have shown from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth because of your goodness, O Lord. The Lord is good and upright. He shows the path to those who stray. He guides the humble in the right path; he teaches his way to the poor.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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