Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Clare of Assisi, Virgin
August 11, 2016
Ezek 12:1-12, Ps 78, Mt 18:21-19:1
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today as the Church celebrates the feast of St. Clare, we think about that celebrated scene in 1212, when she heard St. Francis preaching in a Church and desired within her heart to respond to his inspiration to live “after the manner of the holy Gospel.” She had lived a good life until then, but she sensed that God was calling her to live her faith to the full, to follow St. Francis in uniting herself to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ. Her parents, as we know, didn’t want to have anything to do with her following Francis down a path they considered crazy, but on Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare ran away from home, met Francis and his brothers at the Portiuncula, exchanged her rich clothing for the carpet bag and rope belt of Francis, and began to live radically united according to the manner of Christ. For all of us during this Jubilee of Mercy, we’re likewise called to live according to the way of the Gospel, especially with regard to becoming merciful like our Father is merciful, to united ourselves to Christ who revealed himself to St. Faustina as “mercy incarnate.”
- In today’s first reading, we see the prophetic ôt God had Ezekiel do. Ôts are parables-in-action, prophetic deeds that communicate a message. We see them throughout Ezekiel and Jeremiah. When Ezekiel was in Babylon with the upper classes of Jews who had been brought by Nebuchadnezzer in 597 BC, neither those in exile nor those remaining back in Jerusalem were not converting as they should, and so God had Ezekiel show the exiles by this action what would happen to everyone still in Jerusalem. Ezekiel packs an “exile’s bag,” the type of bag someone would make with valuables if one were never coming home again. He has him dig through the mud wall surrounding the enclave of Jews in Babylon and leave for the night. Doubtless during the night, the exiled Jews of what God called a “rebellious house” must have been thinking that their punishment was at an end, that they were about to pack their bags and return to Jerusalem after a few years in exile, that they had done their penance and now they were ready to resume life as normal. But that’s not the message God was sending at all. When Elijah returned the following day he said that their problems and their penance were about to get worse. “This oracle concerns Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel within it. I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; as captives they shall go into exile.” What before was the exile of only a small percentage of the Jews would now grow into an exile of everyone. The Jews in Babylon, and the Jews who had remained back in Jerusalem, still hadn’t heeded God’s message of conversion that he had sent so many prophets to deliver to them. In a similar way, all of us are supposed to become signs, prophetic parables-in-action of the way to live according to the Gospel. Jesus gives us today’s parable so that we may see ourselves in the first debtor and do the opposite.
- Peter asks Jesus how often must he forgive his brother when his brother sins against him. The Rabbis taught, based on a misinterpretation of passages of the Prophet Amos, that we needed to forgive three times, to give someone a forth chance. Peter multiplied that by two and added one and said, “As many as 7 times?” This would be a very high standard, giving someone an eighth chance, before writing someone off as incorrigible. Jesus replies, “No, Seventy Sevens.” Whether that means 70×7 (490) or 70+7 (77) times really doesn’t matter, because seven is a number already with a sense of infinity. It means to forgive without limit.
- To drive home his point, Jesus then gives us a parable that I think is one of the least remembered but one of the most important for us to understand. He describes two debtors. The first is brought into the King for owing what our translation says is a “huge amount.” The actual term used by St. Matthew is “10,000 talents.” A talent was equivalent to 6,000 denarii and a denarius was a full day’s wage. That means that the man owed 60,000,000 days worth of work, something that would take him 164,271 years to pay off. His request, after he had fallen prostrate on the ground and begged for time to pay it back, was totally absurd. He would need to live to be 165,000 years old. To monetize his debt in today’s terms in order to better understand it, if he were making $100 a day (or $12.50 an hour), he would have owed $6 billion. But the text tells us that when the King saw the man on the ground begging absurdly for time, his “heart was moved with pity” (literally, he was sick to his stomach, his viscera exploded with compassion) and he forgave the entire debt. He didn’t even make him pay what he could. He forgave it all. We’re supposed to see in this what God does for us. He forgives our entire debt. He forgives us 7, 77, 490 times and more.
- But then we see that the servant who had been forgiven billions, who was a billionaire in merciful love, went off and met a servant who owed him 100 denarii, something that could be paid off in about 3 months. This second debtor, using the very same words and actions as the first, fell down begging for time to pay it off. The first debtor must have recognized that the phrase and actions being employed reminded him of his own recent condition. But instead of sharing mercy with the second debtor, he went up and started to choke him in anger and threw him into prison until his family was able to raise the 100 denarii (in today’s money $10,000 at $100 a day) to pay him back. At that point the other servants of the King, seeing the behavior of their colleague, were “saddened” and “disturbed” and they went to the Master, not so much to tattle-tale as to let him know of what was happening in his kingdom, that his standard of mercy was not being shown. He called in the first debtor, called him “wicked” and asked the poignant question: “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Rather than paying the mercy forward, he stifled the flow. And he was sent to prison until she should pay back the last penny, something, because of the size of his debt, was impossible. Because he was unwilling to forgive a small debt, he would be in prison forever; his lack of forgiveness, rather than what he owed, was what got him sent to an unending incarceration.
- We learn two great lessons from this Parable. The first is about the debt we’ve incurred to God because of our sins. It’s unpayable. We owe more to God than the rising U.S. national debt in the trillions. There’s no way we can ever pay it back. That’s why Jesus needed to come to pay it for us. An infinite debt needed an infinite payment, something Jesus himself could do as the sinless God-man but we can never do. It’s key for us to grasp this. Many times we think all our sins are venial, easily forgiven, “peccadillos,” whereas they were what required Jesus’ death to repay in justice. Our sins against God in justice require an infinite punishment and God has paid it. Therefore, each of us should be more grateful to God for the gift of his mercy than someone who has just been forgiven of a $6 billion debt would be to his creditor. When we pray today in the Psalm, “Do not forget the works of the Lord!,” the greatest work we should never forget is how much he has forgiven us!
- That leads to the second lesson we learn. We need to pay that gift of mercy forward. We have been made rich in mercy by God’s generosity and we’re called to share it. It’s like God has made us billionaires and he wants us liberally to share that gift with those who owe us because of the debts of their sins toward us. Even when people have amassed big debts to us — they killed a loved one drunk behind the wheel, they’ve abused us, they’ve tortured us or our loved ones, they’ve made it their life’s purpose to spread calumny against us to hurt our reputation — those debts combined are nothing in comparison with the debt we have made to God. When others come to us asking for our forgiveness, we need to remember that what they’re requesting is $10,000 in comparison with the $6 billion remitted to us. We who have received much need to give much, knowing that what we give is nothing compared to what we’ve been given. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts (sins) as we have forgiven our debtors,” commenting afterward, that unless we forgive our brothers their sins our heavenly Father will not forgive us ours. Jesus made the same point just as emphatically at the end of the parable: “So will my heavenly Father do to you” — send you into prison until you pay back an unpayable debt — “unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” We’re supposed to forgive not just with words, but with a compassionate heart, just like God has forgiven us so many times. If we don’t grasp this lesson, we will end up in Hell not so much because of the sins we’ve committed — although one might argue that the failure to forgive someone else might be a greater sin than whatever we might need to forgive! — but because of our failure to forgive others their sins against us. We won’t receive God’s mercy unless we first share it, not because he doesn’t want to flood us with his merciful love but because our hearts can’t receive it unless they are in turn forgiving others. The measure with which we measure, Jesus told us elsewhere in the Gospel, will be the measure measured back to us. If we live according to the Gospel of mercy, we will receive it. But if we live like the Jews in exile at the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy, our exile from the new and eternal Jerusalem may become eternal.
- To strengthen us each day to live according to the manner of the holy Gospel, God gives us his word and himself each morning so that we can become united with the Gospel incarnate. This was the great secret of St. Clare’s holy life. She was a thoroughly a woman of the Eucharist. When she was suffering late in life and couldn’t even make it to the chapel for Mass, she begged God to allow her to see the Mass in her cell, and the Lord gave her that grace. She saw everything that was taking place at the altar on the wall of her cell. (That’s why she became the patron saint of television, even though it was invented 700 years after her death!). When Frederick Barbarossa in 1232 was ravaging Italy and his troops were about to invade her monastery, she turned to her Eucharistic Lord for protection and she heard him say in response, “I will always protect you.” She took Jesus in a monstrance to a window of the monastery while Frederick’s troops were trying to scale the monastery with ladders. And the sight of the Eucharist, the soldiers fell down afraid and eventually left. The same Jesus who made her bold can make us merciful! Today as we come forward to receive Jesus, we ask Him for a double portion of St. Clare’s love for him so that, like her, we may always live in a manner worthy of the calling we have received and become much needed signs in a world often merciless of the compassion of the divine Creditor!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious house.
Now, son of man, during the day while they are looking on,
prepare your baggage as though for exile,
and again while they are looking on,
migrate from where you live to another place;
perhaps they will see that they are a rebellious house.
You shall bring out your baggage like an exile in the daytime
while they are looking on;
in the evening, again while they are looking on,
you shall go out like one of those driven into exile;
while they look on, dig a hole in the wall and pass through it;
while they look on, shoulder the burden and set out in the darkness;
cover your face that you may not see the land,
for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.I did as I was told.
During the day I brought out my baggage
as though it were that of an exile,
and at evening I dug a hole through the wall with my hand
and, while they looked on, set out in the darkness,
shouldering my burden.Then, in the morning, the word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, did not the house of Israel, that rebellious house,
ask you what you were doing?
Tell them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
This oracle concerns Jerusalem
and the whole house of Israel within it.
I am a sign for you:
as I have done, so shall it be done to them;
as captives they shall go into exile.
The prince who is among them shall shoulder his burden
and set out in darkness,
going through a hole he has dug out in the wall,
and covering his face lest he be seen by anyone.
PS 78:56-57, 58-59, 61-62
They tempted and rebelled against God the Most High,
and kept not his decrees.
They turned back and were faithless like their fathers;
they recoiled like a treacherous bow.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
They angered him with their high places
and with their idols roused his jealousy.
God heard and was enraged
and utterly rejected Israel.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
And he surrendered his strength into captivity,
his glory in the hands of the foe.
He abandoned his people to the sword
and was enraged against his inheritance.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
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.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.