Monday, October 29, 2012

If You Do Not Forgive ...

Continuing my Year of Faith commitment to read a chapter of the Bible each day, I read these words this morning:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents, and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”  And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him by the throat he said, “Pay what you owe.”  So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”  He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay his debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.  Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you besought me, and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”  And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. 
                        --- Mt 18:21-35

Conversation was not short at the coffee shop this morning after mass.  The businessmen and political leaders of our community had much to discuss (and the fate of the Detroit Tigers was not even mentioned!!).  And everyone had opinions, moi included. 
We talked about the storm on the East Coast.  “New York shut down all its transit systems,” I reported reading in the WSJ paper.  “Most people there don’t own vehicles; they won’t be able to go out for anything.”  Another guy said, “That’s the point.  They want everyone to stay home; you can’t just tell them, you have to make them.”  And from there the discussion rambled to its potential impact on voting and the election.  It’s being called a hundred-year’s storm, someone else noted.  (But I’ve already written here about “The Sky Is Falling,” so I won’t go any further on this topic.)
We noted that Spain is talking about breaking up, with various segments of the country wanting to be away from the rest, with its 25% unemployment and huge governmental debts.  “We can govern ourselves better,” they noted.  I think this topic was the transition thought that led someone else to mention that a relative was heading down to Haiti for two weeks, to work at a mission to help the people there.  I commented “That’s where real poverty can be seen.  Perhaps we should send a group of the unemployed from our area down there for two weeks, to see what real unemployment and poverty is, so they might appreciate their blessings.  I’d even donate for the plane fare to get them there.”  (Of course, I always have such wise answers to problems --- at least in my own mind I do.)
But that led to conversations about the under-employed here in our country.  One commented how many 40-ish people he saw working in McDonalds or WalMart’s: “They can’t live on $10/hour, especially since they are only being allowed 30 hours per week, to avoid being called full-time employees and the company having to pay benefits.  That’s only about $1000/month.”  Of course, I contributed my numbers background and noted that with 2,000 work hours a year, $10/hour is $20,000/year.  For many, many years I made less than that, I commented, and even purchased my new 4-bedroom house for $38,000.  “Well, houses aren’t $38,000 anymore, and the people aren’t working 40 hours per week,” was the retort.  “Okay,” I conceded, “maybe they’re earning only $15,000/year, but they aren’t paying taxes.”  From there we went into what has changed over the last 40 years in our country, besides salaries and the cost of houses.  One of the things noted was the disintegration of the family or even the closeness of family.  “All the kids all move away, and then if they or the parents need help, they’re on the other side of the country.”  And even the physical closeness isn’t as close as before, someone commented: “How many people are you really friends with in your church?  If you needed help, could you turn to them?” 
And then I saw the article in the national paper which mentioned our small town:  Ford had sold off a huge manufacturing plant, and the buyer was transferring the work somewhere else.  And for the first time that morning, there was a silence from the people at the table.  Up to that point, we had an answer to all the problems of the world.  And that’s why when I got home and read that passage from Matthew, I gave pause also.
The servant in Jesus’ parable in Matthew had an answer to every problem also: I owe more money than I could ever re-pay to my master?  Beg his forgiveness; grovel at his feet, and when he forgives me --- ta-da, problem solved.  Someone owe me money?  Toss him in jail until he pays me every nickel --- ta-da, problem solved.  He had an answer to every problem, but did you notice HOW he constructed the answers?  Every solution benefited him; that was how he created a “good” solution.  His ideas were the most important!  His ideas “solved” THE problem!  And the problem was “THE” problem because it impacted him. 
And then his master intervened, and then he REALLY saw a problem which impacted him.
My friends in the coffee shop, and I, had thinking not too unlike that of the servant.  Worldwide problems and their solutions we interpreted in terms of our experiences.  Local problems we interpreted in terms of how the solutions would solve our state’s financial problems (and therefore our own potential tax problems).  And when the problem hit bluntly home, we were quiet.  But in the back of our minds, I am sure, were thoughts about how this might impact us: With the lost tax base, would our taxes go up, or services down?  And for some: Will it impact my next election?  Will homes be dumped on the market, further lowering prices?  We all had quiet thoughts, but I doubt that first and foremost in any of our minds was the potential impact on our neighbors.  At the table this morning was a group of Christian men, and certainly we’d probably all have recalled the parable I later read, yet we missed living the example given in it.  We could quote that parable, but that is not the same thing as living it, from your heart, in our attitudes about things impacting our neighbor.
And that’s what I thought, what hit me, as I read the parable in Matthew.  The key point was: “Unless you forgive your neighbor,” unless you put HIM not yourself first, you’re not following the example of your God.  So often we look at how things impact us first, and not others.  But whether it was forgiving or healing or loving, Jesus acted for others first, not himself.  He thought and worried about others first, and He told us we should follow His example.  And then there was one thing more …
In the parable, if the servant couldn’t follow the example of the master, the merciful master, then the master would show him a new master, the just one.   And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.  And just to make it clear, Jesus said:   So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. 
God teaches us as a loving father would do:  “Son, you can learn this lesson the easy way, or the hard way.  The choice is yours.”              
Why do we so often pick the hard way?


  1. Thank you so much for your ever insightful posts. And the affirmation that all of us need to work harder at being faithful, and put it first and foremost in our lives. I hate to think that Christ is often an afterthought in our comings and goings.

  2. Oh, I'm not toooooo critical of my neighbors (or myself), because quite frankly Christ WAS an afterthought for much of my life. Not that I was ever like some "Catholics" today who don't accept some of the doctrines of the Church, I accepted them all, but I just didn't live them all. They were, as you said, Glenna, kind of an afterthought. It took a lot of work, and blessings, for me to finally really see myself in the mirror ---- and not like what I saw, and begin the commitment to change.

    In addition to wanting to put our neighbor first in our thoughts, as the above scripture taught, we also must be loving of him, even as Jesus loved the sinner. This is where sometimes I also need to get past "myself," and having things the way I want. I can often put my neighbor first in my thoughts, but then my loving thoughts are about how "I" think he should act --- kind of like "I'll love him, if he acts as I want him to." And so I find it easy to criticize him or talk about him behind his back. Not good.

    I have a far way to go, to achieve that perfection longed for. But fortunately I am not alone in my travels.