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Archive for January 17th, 2019


Matthew 18:21-35The Unforgiving Servant

Thursay, January 17, 2019

Rembrandt: The Unforgiving Servant

It is so very difficult to forgive those who have wronged us grievously; and it is also difficult to curb the pressing urge to seek revenge against our enemies.  Jesus tells us today that we must endlessly forgive those who harm us . . . otherwise we are like the unforgiving servant in today’s parable.  And the frightening outcome of his life is not one we want for ourselves or our loved ones.

Seventy-seven times, we are told by scholars and experts, represents a number of completion.  By forgiving endlessly we near the perfection or completion we yearn for.  The irony here is that when we become the unforgiving servant we distance ourselves from the very fullness we seek.  We label ourselves as partial and lacking.  Jesus warns us of this today.

Luke also records that Jesus tells his followers they must forgive endlessly (17:4).  This is something they and we struggle to understand.  Our instincts tell us to attack, defend, justify and explain.  We want to come out of any dispute or confrontation as the clear and evident winner.  We want to survive.  For most of us it is difficult to walk away from an argument or to allow another to have the last word; yet Jesus tells us that our first step toward wholeness is to forgive.  Reconciliation will follow if we remain open.  Isolation, anger and fear become more distant and even impossible when we turn our backs on revenge and seek union instead.  Jesus calls us to this today.

St. Paul reminds the Ephesians (4:32) to be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.  Which one of us, he implies, is so perfect that we cannot forgive?  And how do we hold a grudge when Jesus – God among us – does not?  St. Paul points this out to us today.

Immaculée Ilibagiza

Following the horrific genocide in Rwanda, the warring Hutus and the Tutsis were brought together in a journey from fighting to forgiveness.  We follow events as they unfold; we want this reconciliation to work because this coming together of bitter enemies tells us that we are worth redeeming.  It shows us what God sees in us.  It reminds us of God’s covenant promise to us.  Powerful testimonials to our capacity to forgive can be found in both print and video media and here are only a few examples.  http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/8564297/ns/today/t/fighting-forgiveness-rwanda/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK0W4jx2OZY  and http://articles.cnn.com/2008-05-15/world/amanpour.rwanda_1_hutu-gitarama-tutsis?_s=PM:WORLDWhen we read, hear or view these stories, we take heart.  We once again bolster ourselves for the difficult yet redeeming task of forgiving others.  We once more feel the stirrings of hope in our tired hearts.  We again pull ourselves away from our fear to love our enemies into goodness.

Kill them with kindness, my mother always advised, taking her example from Jesus.  Let God worry about the other guy, Dad always told us, knowing that evil is too enormous and too dangerous for us to conquer on our own.  In her book entitled Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide, Immaculée Ilibagiza tells her story that echoes those of so many other holocaust survivors that God resides even in the center of hell itself if that is where he has to be in order to save us.  This is how much God loves us.  This is how much we can love one another.

When we feel ourselves drawn into this story as the master or the servants, we know that it holds something for us.  When we find ourselves giving over to the anger within us and fear that it will control our thoughts, words and actions, we will want to turn to this story.  When someone who has wronged us approaches us in humble fear of our retaliation, let us reach out a warm and welcoming hand and remember the words that Jesus taught us to pray . . .  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And let us remember the story of the unforgiving servant.


A re-post from January 17, 2012.

Images from: http://australiaincognita.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html and https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/thumblg_immaculee1.jpg

To read more about Immaculée Ilibagiza, see: http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Most-Inspiring-Person-Of-The-Year/2006/Immacule-Ilibagiza.aspx

For more on Rwando, go to: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide_in_rwanda.htm

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