Today’s Gospel is a parable that follows Jesus’ instructions to Peter when Peter asks how often he is to forgive his brother who sins against him. He asks if seven times is enough but Christ replies that it is to be seventy times seven, and then he follows this up with a parable on the same subject.
In this parable, we find that a servant is brought before the king and is asked to pay the exorbitant debt that he owes him. The servant is threatened and he then asks mercy of the King who then grants it to him and repeals the whole debt. Upon his release, the servant found a fellow servant who owed him a pittance and abused him, threatened him and demanded the money he was owed. Unable to pay his debt, he was thrown into prison. When the king found out about how the forgiven servant treated his fellow servant, calling the servant before himself, the King says that he should have forgiven the debt in the same way that his own was forgiven. He called him a wicked servant and then delivered him over until his debt should be paid.
The amount that the servant owes the king, ten thousand talents, is a sum that can never be paid off. This is an analogy of our offense towards God. Who can enumerate all of our offenses? What could we ever do to repay the debt we owe to God for His goodness? How many lifetimes would we have to live, without incurring further debt for our balance to be canceled? Our Saviour tells us: when we have done all those things of which we are commanded we are but unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). Nevertheless, He still grants freedom to us debtors, freedom from the tyranny of our sins. This freedom that we receive from Christ is given not as a reward for works but for faithfulness to those who serve him well.
St. Nicodemus, in his homily entitled What God Has Done for our Salvation lists the many ways in which God has worked to bring about our salvation. He lists all that God has done noting:
- the preparation of a kingdom for those who are obedient;
- the blessedness and happiness prepared for us;
- His desire to make us children by grace and communicants of the Holy Spirit.
- He prepared the heavenly armies, the Angels, and Archangels whose work it is to protect men and save them waging war against the demons for our salvation;
- He has created the material world out of nothing and set us in it to rule over it;
- He gave us the Law and the commandments;
- He sent the prophets for no other reason than to teach us the way of salvation, and
- then He sent us His only begotten Son.
In contrast, what have we done that is so great, whether it be towards God or our neighbor, that we should not deserve the offenses which we have suffered from others, the hundred pence, compared with the innumerable times that we grieve our good God? Nevertheless, God easily and freely forgives our sins and requires that we do the same for our neighbor.
We are familiar with the Lord’s prayer where we ask God to forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, but in this parable Christ adds something further. He says that our Heavenly Father will judge us based on our forgiveness of our brother’s offenses or lack thereof when he says: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Therefore, our brother’s offenses do us no harm. Instead, it is we who harm ourselves when we do not forgive him. We are condemned by our own actions.
Commenting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom says: Let us not then thrust the sword into ourselves by being revengeful. For our brother is not grieved as much as we will be, if we do not forgive him but instead are angry with him. Herein, we draw upon ourselves the sentence of God to condemn us.
What are we to make of those who grieve us then? St. Isaac the Syrian instructs us not to hate him because we both have a common enemy, the devil, who deceives us and in our weakness, we fall prey to him. He writes:
Do not hate the sinner. We are, indeed, all laden with guilt. If for the sake of God you are moved to oppose him, weep over him. Why do you hate him? Hate his sins and pray for him, that you may imitate Christ Who was not wroth with sinners, but interceded for them. Do you see how he wept over Jerusalem? We are mocked by the devil in many instances, so why should we hate the man who is mocked by him who mocks us also?
Instead of being grieved by such occurrences, St. John Chrysostom says that we should know that this brother is our benefactor and not our enemy. He writes:
Say not then that he insulted thee, and slandered thee, and did unto thee ills beyond number; for the more thou tellest, so much the more dost thou declare him a benefactor. For he hath given thee an opportunity to wash away thy sins; so that the greater the injuries he hath done thee, so much greater is he become to thee a cause of a greater remission of sins.
For if we be willing, no one shall be able to injure us, but even our enemies shall advantage us in the greatest degree.
Abba Anthony said: “Our life and our death depend on our neighbor: if we gain our brother, we gain God; and if we scandalize our brother, we sin against Christ.”
Throughout the lives of the Desert Fathers, we see this worked out whether it be Abba Agathon willing to exchange his body for that of a leper or when Abba Makarios upon finding that a certain elder was ill but also had no food to sustain him, walked to Alexandria to buy him some food. Is not the forgiveness of our brother’s offenses toward us, not the smallest thing we can do compared to such examples of love towards our brothers? Is this not one of the easiest acts to do which will keep us from harm?
Dear brothers, may we love one another and forgive one another as God has forgiven us and not harm ourselves through anger and resentment. Especially on this day when we are soon to approach the dread Mysteries of Christ, may we not partake unworthily.
If thou desirest, O man, to eat the Body of the Master, Approach with fear, lest thou be burnt; for It is fire. And when thou drinkest the Divine Blood unto communion, First be reconciled to them that have grieved thee, Then dare to eat the Mystical Food.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us. Amen.