In this week’s reading we are challenged to behave not as human beings do but in imitation of the very mercy of God. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
21 Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ 22 Jesus answered ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.
23 ‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. 24 When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; 25 but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. 26 At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time,” he said, “and I will pay the whole sum.” 27 And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. 28 Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me,” he said. 29 His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you”. 30 But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him 32 Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. 33 Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” 34 And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. 35 And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’
Jesus’ fourth great speech in the Gospel of Matthew, found in chapter 18 of the gospel, is the ‘community discourse’. The final section of this speech is the lengthy parable of the unforgiving debtor, which is provoked by Peter’s question about forgiveness.
What does it mean to forgive? The saying ‘forgive and forget’ is easily spoken but so difficult to implement. Many people feel confused by it. If someone has inflicted a profound wrong it is virtually impossible for the victim to forget, nor should he or she be expected to. But what about forgiving? Forgiving does not mean dismissing the evil committed or the hurt suffered. It is about not requiring a pay-back from the perpetrator, some kind of retribution, but rather seeking his or her forgiveness and healing. This is the hard challenge to follow Jesus in forgiving as he forgave as he hung on the cross. It is the challenge to behave not as human beings do but in imitation of the very mercy of God.
Is it possible to forgive and forget when the hurt is lasting and deep?
Is there someone to whom I can offer forgiveness in my heart today?
Let us pray for wisdom to understand that we are called to imitate God’s compassion.
Let us pray for those whose lives are ruined by bitterness.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy