The Gospel according to Matthew 18:21-35
“…'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 your brother from your heart."
God is merciful, God is love. In recent readings of the Mass, our Lord has told us,
“Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. "(Matthew 5:48).
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
In the story from today’s first reading, God’s people are in exile suffering terribly at the hands of their oppressors. The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has set up a huge gold statue to be worshiped by all or else be cast into a white-hot furnace. Three of the Hebrew exiles refused to do so: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Azariah). The king in his rage ordered that the furnace be heated seven times more than usual. So huge a fire was kindled in the furnace that the men who threw them in were devoured by the flames. Azariah is literally standing in the midst of the flames praying aloud, blessing God, and praising him. The king is enraged and orders his servants to stoke the fire even more and the' flames rose forty-nine cubits above the furnace' burning those caught around the furnace. But God in his great mercy miraculously intervened and saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Azariah from the fiery furnace. With one voice, they sang glorifying and blessing God.
I would be the first to admit - to my shame - that when I suffer at the hands of those who persecute me, or try to do me harm, or cut me off on the road, I do not sing, glorify, and bless God in the midst of the flames. My knee-jerk reaction is to protest, get angry, or consider some form of retaliation before I consider forgiveness. Not good! But Jesus admonishes me (all of us) to be perfect, to be merciful, and to forgive those who hurt us, or owe us a debt. He reminds us that God is merciful and forgiving toward all of us and that a servant who does not forgive and who is not merciful, will be handed ‘over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.’ – I believe he’s referring to purgatory. I thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that, while I have life within me, I have the opportunity with his grace, to forgive and offer praise for my own sanctification. It’s a mandate.