Luke 15 does not exhaust the Lord’s imagination when it comes to preaching mercy. An apostle inquires about limits. It’s a very human question. We are confronted with people who continually disappoint us. What is our stance?
From another parable, we cull an important teaching for our Christian lives. In reply to Peter’s question about how many times it is necessary to forgive, Jesus says: “I do not say seven times, but seventy times seventy times” (Mt 18:22). He then goes on to tell the parable of the “ruthless servant,” who, called by his master to return a huge amount, begs him on his knees for mercy. His master cancels his debt. But he then meets a fellow servant who owes him a few cents and who in turn begs on his knees for mercy, but the first servant refuses his request and throws him into jail. When the master hears of the matter, he becomes infuriated and, summoning the first servant back to him, says, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt 18:33). Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother (or sister) from your heart” (Mt 18:35).
So mercy is not merely a quality between God and an individual in need of grace. Mercy is part of our inheritance as Christians. Will be use it or squander the gift we have received? Just as a person inherits physical features from parents, Pope Francis is right to inquire of our “spiritual genetics.” Do we show evidence of being children of the Father? Or are we pretenders in the divine household? Is our claim to faithfulness, a sacred inheritance, orthodoxy, or what-have-you a credible thing? Or have we deceived ourselves and others?
This parable contains a profound teaching for all of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Above all, let us listen to the words of Jesus who made mercy as an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7): the beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.
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