Dearly beloved, it was Socrates who once said that: “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil”. Yet I tell you that one of the greatest evils that confronts each and every person upon this planet, (which echoes this wise saying of Socrates); is when we falsely seek forgiveness and merely utter words not out of remorse, repentance or genuine feeling towards the person we have offended. But instead we seek “forgiveness” out of simple necessity to merely “preserve peace” like diplomats who manipulate circumstances without dealing with the real issue at hand, or the reestablishment of a damaged relationship out of self-interest.
However, what is an even greater offence in the eyes of God and contrary to human integrity, is not acknowledging or refusing to accept responsibility for a sin or an offence committed against another person. This is also an offence against God who created both the victim and the offender in His image. Parallel to this great evil are those who refuse to forgive and forget others their offence. Many may claim to forgive, but how many are willing to forget another person’s offence and allow the matter to become a mere signpost of the past along the journey of human relationships?
An old Greek proverb confronts us with such considerations when it proclaims “that every problem or obstacle is for the good”, since a genuine relationship is built upon open communication , and that there will be times when differences in opinion or behaviour will cause conflict. But with humility, love and respect, these barriers can be overcome, and help that relationship to enter into a deeper reality, and a more personal understanding of one another. Today’s gospel pericope presents us with exactly that, the freedom and loving power of forgiveness.
For forgiveness is a truth that truly sets one free! In the case of the transgressor, it helps reconcile themselves with others and God, and initiates the journey to seek to continually correct their failings and to exert effort in nullifying their past action. What does this mean?
It simply means that the seeking of forgiveness is not one of mere words, but requires action by the transgressor to not dwell in guilt, self-affliction and inaction. But to recognise their failing, and to move forwards by making every strenuous effort to correct past wrongdoings, and to reconcile with those they have hurt, and to confess this sin within the rite of confession.
As to the victim, they must remain open, receptive and patient with those who have sinned against them and not withhold forgiveness. Otherwise if forgiveness is not sought or bestowed, then both transgressor and victim are chained to the past, and it becomes a great weight upon them, mentally, physically and spiritually. Furthermore the ill-blood between the two begins to spread within their very beings like a cancerous growth eating away at them. This in turn distorts their relationship with each other, but also with other people and God, by sowing the seeds of distrust, grudges, anger and hatred.
However in the final analysis, forgiveness is a God-given right which is integral to the gift of life, for no one is born perfect. We are all exploring the immense variables and complexities of life upon this earth as fallible beings who are created in the image of God. Therefore, we must all show patience, self-restraint and love, because at some point within our own lives, we have knowingly or unknowingly, whether in deed, thought, word or action, have sinned against another.
Even if we may have managed in the unlikely scenario, to have avoided in sinning against others, we must also give due consideration as to whether our actions, words or thoughts were in accordance to the loving sacrificial example of Christ and the calling that God sets before us.
Today’s gospel illustrates this within a parable of immense extremes, whereby a king seeking to put things within his own realm in good order and governance, sets about settling all accounts. We are told that there was a servant who owed the king an immense fortune that would require many lifetimes to be paid off, and thus unable to pay. The law in those days dictated that in the event that a person could not repay their debt, the lender (in the parable’s example, the king), could recover the outlay by using as guarantee, the sale of the borrower and his entire household into slavery.
However, in the parable we see the servant beseech the king to show mercy by giving an extension of time to the schedule of his debt repayments, to which the king showed compassion and cancelled the servant’s debt in its entirety. Regretfully the same servant did not show any mercy to another fellow servant who happened to owe him money. Ironically, the amount owed was a mere trifle that would have cost at the most a month’s wages, and in the least, a week’s wages.
Nevertheless this unjust servant who petitioned the king for mercy, was unmoved to bestow forgiveness upon another, and yet within this lack of compassion paves the way for his own demise; for other servants who became fearful or disgusted by his behaviour or sought revenge for his recalcitrant actions, brought the matter to the attention of the king. The king as we know, dealt harshly with this repugnant man to teach him a lesson in showing compassion to others.
In spiritual and ethical terms, the kingdom is the Gospel of God, the king represents God, and the debt represents God’s forbearance and mercy towards us. Yet the debt is also symbolic of the gift of life that each one of us has received, as well as the gift of Christ’s crucifixional sacrifice which sets before us the example of love and forgiveness. Consequently, every person upon this earth has a responsibility to one another, that is without limits and encompasses especially the virtue of forgiveness, to which the recalcitrant servant failed to show towards the hapless servant who owed him money.
But it also means, that every person has an obligation to acknowledge their debt of gratitude and responsibility to God, and therefore manifest the same mercy to others. The recalcitrant servant on the face of things, made the first step towards repentance by falling to his knees before the king, acknowledging and confessing his failing, while implying by this action that he was striving to make amends. Of course the servant sought an extension of time to service his debt and not the complete forgiveness of his debt, but the king bestowed freely and more than what the servant expected, by the complete expungement of his debt. Of course we might ask the question as to where this servant’s priorities were, because we should ask ourselves what takes precedent, humans or material concerns like money?
Unfortunately this recalcitrant servant ignored this great boon, and shows us that his plea for mercy was not sincere, but out of self-interest and could not have cared less for what the king had done for him. Therefore dearly beloved brethren we must show the same magnanimous patience and mercy to others as God shows us, while our efforts towards reconciliation and forgiveness must be one of action and sincerity, Amen.
Dedicated to Evangelia & Sophia Anagnostakos – V.M.
 Note: Naturally we do not mean that we should start conflicts deliberately to attain this objective, but that it occurs organically and with the passage of time.