SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Daniel 3:25-43; Ps 25:4-9; Matthew 18:21-35  ]

The world is merciless towards failures.  We not only condemn those who have been caught committing crimes, but we do it harshly and ruthlessly. Indeed, it is not uncommon for people on social media, especially those who hide behind pseudonyms, to make nasty, venomous remarks that are aimed at destroying, demoralizing and judging those who think differently, deemed to be ignorant or weak.   Instead of helping these people to repent and change, we drive them deeper into anger, resentment, retaliation and despair.

When we behave in this manner, we are behaving like the servant who could not forgive the debt of his fellow servant who merely owed him a labourer’s wage for the day.  “He seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. ‘Pay what you owe me’ he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, ‘Give me time and I will pay you’. But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt.”  For a day’s wage, he could not forgive him.  So when we condemn others callously we fall into the same sin of hypocrisy.   

The truth is as Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (Jn 8:7)  St Paul also said a similar thing about his fellow Jews,  “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God  and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law,  and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,  a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth,  you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?  You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”  (Rom 2:17-22)

Truly, what right do we have to condemn others who have sinned when we ourselves have sinned? The servant who demanded that his fellow servant repay the small debt he was owed, had himself owed his master ten thousand talents, which was an enormous sum of money, and yet when he begged for mercy, the master forgave him.  So we condemn those who commit sexual sins, as if we ourselves have not committed any ourselves.  We condemn those who steal, as if we have never stolen in our lives.  We condemn those are unfaithful as if we have always been faithful.  Perhaps, we might not have fallen into the same sins of our fellowmen, but surely we have committed other sins!  We are all sinners, like the rest of humanity.

This is what the Lord warns us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye.”  (Mt 7:1-5)   This does not mean that we cannot judge what is right or wrong, or condemn evil and falsehood.  What we cannot condemn is the person, because we do not know the full circumstances why a person committed a sin or a crime.  It could be due to weakness, a moment of temptation, conditioning, constant exposure to evil, such as pornography, or a wounded past.   It is not wrong for us to condemn sin but it is an entirely different matter to condemn someone and cast aspersions on him and his intentions.  Only God can judge the heart, we can only see the action.  But we are all blinded by our own sins and selfishness to enable us to judge the other person rightly.

Furthermore, what right and audacity do we have to condemn when God forgives? “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”  (Rom 8:31-34) More so, when God Himself also has forgiven our many grievous sins against Him, His name and His holiness.   We deserve condemnation for our sins but again and again when we turn back to Him, He forgives.

Indeed, the Lord is so different from the way we react to those who sinned.  He made it clear, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.”  (Ez 18:31f) In contrast, we desire the death of the sinner.  We want to push the dagger into the heart of our enemies, use harsh words to crucify him, and bring him down altogether, out of revenge and self-righteousness.  We do not think of how to help a person to come out of his prison and misery and sinfulness so that he can live a good life and be well again. We are out to destroy the person and even relish in seeing the person punished, humiliated and his dignity crushed.

The first reading and the responsorial psalm is clear.  When God permits us to suffer, it is never punitive but a means to help us to come to realization.  This was the case for the Israelites.  Azariah said, “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.”  Israel was sent into exile not so much because God enjoyed punishing them and taking revenge on them for their infidelity, but He wanted them to reflect on their sins, come to realization and so repent.  “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 moment we sincerely repent, God takes us back.  All He wants for us is to be sorry for our sins.  “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.” The psalmist says, “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.”  Indeed, God is faithful to us and to His Covenant.  He does not withdraw His favour from us and His promises.  The servant who was forgiven by the master did not show signs of repentance and hence he was eventually punished again.  He was unrepentant even though His master forgave him his debts.  That is why, without contrition of heart, even though God always forgives us, that forgiveness has no effect on us unless it is received with gratitude and joy.

The sign of a contrite heart is seen in a changed life.  This is all that is required for healing to begin.  This was the sincere prayer of the Israelites.  “May it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly, since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed. 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.”  So long as we follow the Lord, we will be well again.  Our prayer must be like that of the psalmist, “Lord, make me know your ways.  Lord, teach me your paths.  Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my saviour.”  Hence, we must be ready to forgive our brothers and sisters who have sinned against us or failed in their Christian life.  Our task is to heal, save and redeem them.  The Lord made it clear, “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?”

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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