This refrain from today’s Responsorial Psalm presents to us the paradigm through which we should understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness in today’s Gospel. Eight weeks ago the author of the Book of Wisdom (see the First Reading for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19) marveled at the mercy of God who is accountable to no one else, but whose might sets the standard for justice. Jesus’ parable presents a lowly servant whose huge debt is forgiven by a mighty king. When this servant is approached by a peer, a fellow servant, for an extension on a smaller loan, he refuses to show compassion. Therein lies the rub.
The “huge amount” the servant owed the king in the original Greek was 10,000 talents. The “much smaller amount” his fellow servant owed him was 100 denarii. A talent was worth 6,000 denarii. So 10,000 talents were equivalent to 60,000,000 denarii. Now we can see the contrasts between a mighty king and a lowly servant, and a debt between peers that was 600,000 times smaller. The mighty king represents Almighty God, and we are the lowly servants. Now the point is clear. Now the answer to the question posed in our first reading is obvious: “Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” Failing to forgive another’s injustice usually does more harm to the one refusing to forgive than to the one who remains unforgiven.
This Monday, September 14, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross in 325 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. In 614 that portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until it was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 628. The cross was returned to the church the following year after initially having been taken to Constantinople by Heraclius.
The date used for the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335. This was a two-day festival: although the actual dedication of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross and all could come forward to venerate it.
The mystery this feast commemorates, however, is the redemption accomplished by our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. The “lifting up” of the Son of Man, to which Jesus refers in the Gospel, may be understood in a twofold manner: his being lifted up in crucifixion and his being lifted up in resurrection. The former is the sacrifice; the latter is the victory. Neither can be understood without the other. Hence the cross, an instrument of death, like the serpent in the desert, is transformed into the means of salvation.
Pray the rosary this week for the young people from our parishes preparing for their confirmation next Sunday. Pray for all working on the relief effort as well as the cleanup and reconstruction in the south, and firefighters in the west. Pray also for the police officers, firefighters and first responders who work to keep us safe every day. Pray for the development of a covid-19 vaccine and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.