Being like our forgiving God

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 17 September 2023
Sirach 27:30-28:7 ><}}}}*> Romans 14:7-9 ><}}}}*> Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by author at the RISE Tower, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 28 July 2023.

This past week has been a very toxic one for us in the hospital where I serve as a chaplain.

Beginning last Sunday morning after our Mass at the University adjacent to our hospital, I had to proceed to the ICU to anoint a critical patient who expired 20 minutes later while I was still attending to seven other patients there in the unit. One died that evening, the other the following day. Last Tuesday and Thursday I had to go back to the hospital to anoint four more patients, two of them eventually died before this Saturday.

When that patient died last Sunday morning, the doctors and nurses at the ICU thanked me, telling me how the deceased must have just waited for me to receive the Sacrament of Anointing. “Hinintay lang po kayo, Father.”

I have heard that so many times even while I was assigned in a parish. And every time people would tell me that, I thank God deep in my heart for his infinite love and mercy, in never allowing patients to die until they have been anointed and absolved of their sins. That is why I am so convinced that almost everybody goes to heaven or purgatory when they die because God ensures that each one of us will have a chance to prepare to meet him in heaven. Only a few, even almost no one, except anyone who would reject God totally goes to hell.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Tagalag, Valenzuela City, 13 September 2023.

My dear friends and family, today we continue the second in a series of what I have told you last Sunday of the Lord’s teaching on some of life’s most delicate issues we are all aware of but find so difficult to accept and practice.

Last Sunday, it was about fraternal correction, of the need for us to speak to those living in sin. Today, Jesus teaches us to forgive those who sin against us.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants….”

Matthew 18:21-23

Notice how Jesus used a parable in explaining forgiving to Peter and other apostles along with us today. Forgiving from the heart because of love can never be fully explained as a concept; love is best expressed in forgiveness which Jesus showed us on the Cross where his first words were for the forgiveness of his enemies who “knew not what they were doing”.

Photo by Dean Mon Macatangga, May 2023.

When we love, we level up in our existence and that becomes most true when we forgive. See how love remains the antidote to sin which is lack of love. Both fraternal correction and forgiving are expressions of love that is true, the love of Christ. That is the point of Christ’s parable when he said, “That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.”

To love, to forgive, to correct those who sin are all in the realms of God, of the divine as Shakespeare said, “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” Whenever we forgive because we love like God, we become like him!

Becoming like God, becoming divine happens when we recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Here lies the beautiful twist in the Lord’s parable: forgiving is in the realm of the kingdom of God where we are brothers and sisters, not just servants who owe God our king or anyone with debts to be paid that are measurable in exact amount or quantity. St. Paul expressed it beautifully last Sunday, “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8).

Love is the only debt we owe everyone. We can never repay love because it is a debt so huge, like the debt of that servant summoned by the king in today’s parable. Jesus came to “save” us from that debt of love that God asks us not because he needs it repaid but because he showers us with so much of that love. We just have to keep on sharing that love of God that is infinite because love is the essence of our lives. To live is to love and when we love, that is when we truly live. And that is why we must forgive also like him. On our own it is impossible to love and to forgive but that grace has always been there for us to take and share because we are all loved and forgiven children of God. To forget or disregard this truth is to separate from God and from everyone which is what hell is all about.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Tagalag, Valenzuela City, 13 September 2023.

Both teachings and instructions by Jesus to correct our wayward brothers and sisters and to forgive those who often sin against us are expressions of our love of God. Indeed, they are both difficult, most especially forgiving from the heart. Problem with forgiveness is the fact that the most painful hurts we incur are always inflicted by those we love, by those people closest to us and dearest to us. It is a grace we have to pray for always, whether for us who have sinned or hurt by others.

But, there are also practical considerations why we have to forgive as Ben Sirach had noticed since the Old Testament days. It is something we continue to experience these days and sadly, even see on social media like the endless series of road rage everywhere in the world that has become like a pandemic.

How true were the observations by Ben Sirach that “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sir. 27:30) as clips of road rage vividly show us in social media, from the lack of respect of those involved to abuse of authority as well as destruction of lives and properties. Like the other servants in the parable, we feel sorry for the victims of road rage considering mostly are about petty things blown out of proportions.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Quezon Province, August 2022.

Psychologists and experts also tell us the importance of forgiving for practical reasons but they all pale in the light of the simple fact that the obligation to avoid resentment, hatred and violence is strictly enjoined on us who know God and are conscious of our own need for his forgiveness and mercy. In the end, let us forgive one another as St. Paul reminded us today in the second reading that everything will be determined and judged in our relationship with Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our sins. This we constantly honor and deepen when we forgive, when we pray the Our Father, and when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!