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The Word, The Truth

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Continuing last week’s lesson from the Gospel regarding the relationship of the members of the Christian community where the paramount goal is to bring back to full communion a member who sins, today’s gospel focuses on an interpersonal offense and the need for forgiveness (Mt 18:21-35).

Jesus’s response to Peter, (who probably imagined that he was already being very generous in his willingness to forgive, for in the Babylonian Talmud, for example, three times was an acceptable maximum), was “hebdomēkontakis hepta”, (ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά), meaning seventy-seven times and can be translated also as seventy times seven times (vv21-22). The number seven and its multiples are symbolic of fullness. But be it 77 or 490 times, the point is that there can be no limits to the willingness to forgive. Forgiveness cannot be limited to a certain number of times. It is incalculable. And alluding to Gen 4:24, it may also be sounding a contrary note to Lamech’s unlimited vengeance: “If Cain is avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold”.

The parable, comparing the amount of two debts owed further illustrates the point of Jesus. The “huge amount” (v24) refers to ten thousand talents: a talent (“talanton”ταλάντον) was equivalent to 6,000 denarii, so a total of 60 million denarii; a denarius was approximately one day’s wage; this would require more than 164,000 years of work, seven days a week. The “smaller amount” (v28) is literally a hundred (100) denarii only, needing a hundred days of work only to pay it. The difference between these two debts is so enormous that it brings out the absurdity of the conduct of the unforgiving servant.

Jesus, therefore, teaches not the quantity of forgiveness (how often?), but the quality, by giving the reason for “no limits”: if God places no limits, humans cannot place a limit.

The Word of God today presents Christian forgiveness as the human counterpart of God’s forgiveness. Sirach speaks of Yahweh’s dealing with his creatures as being a reflection of the ways in which they treat one another, (cf first reading) while the parable in the Gospel is a clear self-explanatory presentation of the Christian teaching on forgiveness. Beginning with God’s treatment of us, Jesus appeals for a similar spirit of mercy among his followers. Do we sincerely mean whenever we pray “as we forgive those who trespass against us? Otherwise we cannot appeal to the Lord to “forgive us our trespasses”. Amen.

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Veritas Editorial

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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