The Sine Qua Non
What is the most anti-Christian thing you can say? You may think it is some form of blasphemy, or even some form denying that Christ exists and those would be anti-Christian. But I said what is the most anti-Christian thing you can say? What can you say that goes against the total core of Christianity?
Well after a solid study on this for my homily which I do every week, I have come to realize it is this sentence. You offended me and I will not forgive you.
Forgiveness is the essence of Christianity. It is what Christ does for each and every one of us and demands that we do for others. It is the reason why he died on the cross so that your sins may be forgiven. In fact, as we see in the Gospel today it is the sine qua non of our salvation. If we do not forgive, we cannot be forgiven. This means forgiveness in all its forms.
It reminds me of the comedian who tells the story of giving a toll taker a twenty-dollar bill to pay a one dollar toll. The toll taker complained until the comedian pointed out that making change is what toll takers do, so how can he complain.
Forgiveness is what we do. It is the core of everything we do as Christians.
If you want to see how essential forgiveness is to the mission of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that forgiveness of sins is such a great power that priests and bishops have that not even angels have that power. It is the central ministry. Jesus died that all may be saved and they can only be saved through forgiveness. If we are to be Christlike, we are not just be nice to others, we must not just act in social justice, we must be in a ministry of forgiveness even of the one who did what we consider unforgivable.
You see, we often teach people that God forgives all sins, so if we are going to be Christlike, we must forgive all sins against us as well.
Here is how it goes with us. According to the law, anyone who violates so much as one modicum of the law is guilty of breaking the entire law of God. So unless one is sinless, he or she has no recourse but to be condemned to Hell. That is the spiritual law of the universe. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is able to forgive our sins. He does not deny that they happened, but he releases us from the sentence that is incurred through our sins, provided we repent against them. This is what forgiveness is, it is not something that denies the offense occurs, but after someone repents of that offense, the punishment is suspended. We may ask for restitution in justice, but we do not demand our will in retribution. So when Aunt Mary says that the gift you give her is the stupidest thing she ever received and later she apologizes for being so callous you can ask for it back, or maybe encourage her to exchange the gift, but you cannot choose to never speak to her again. You are punishing her in your demand for your justice to fall upon her head.
The Catechism also teaches that this is a central ministry of families. It is in families when children are being brought up and even when couples are starting out that they learn the skill of forgiveness of each other so that they can be forgiving. Meanwhile the family grows in love, for forgiveness also helps us to grow in love. It is in fact a loving choice.
These are strong indications of what it means to be a Christian. Knowing the forgiveness of God through the sacrament and being forgiving of others.
We can be the most active Catholic on the planet, we can go to Church two three times a weekend. We can be involved in every ministry. We can fight against every injustice and speak up for every marginalized person in the world. However, if we are not forgiving offenses, then we are not being Catholic and we are not a shoe-in for salvation.
The parable speaks it well.
The first man who owes a huge amount of money, he actually owes in today’s dollars $8,077,800,000 which despite the servant promising to pay back it all is actually forgiven of the entire debt. You know and I know that there is no way anyone could pay back that debt. Bill Gates could not even pay back that amount of money. I mention Bill Gates for a reason. He is the richest man in the world with over eighty six billion dollars. Taking all the money he has, according to Forbes Magazine, if he earned all that same amount of money every year, used it to pay the debt, all of it. It would take him 93 years to pay the king back. Obviously, we are talking about an amount of money that is more than anyone could pay back. This is what the king forgave the man who then owed nothing.
He then throttles the next servant who in today’s money would have owed a significant amount but even manageable. Basically in today’s money the cost would be a low model car: $13,346.
Each of our offenses against God are beyond our ability to make restitution, but He forgives our offenses completely, on the condition that we treat others the same way. If we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us, but if we do forgive others, He will forgive us.
How do we forgive when we find it virtually impossible. We pray for them to God, even offer the hurt they make against us as an offering to God. In time we will forgive, because even if the action is difficult the intention is there and the intention when we work with it, will give way to the action.
Notice what Jesus also says, if we were to act like the first servant, we would be punished until we paid back the last penny, at the amount of money we are talking about, you can see that this is an eternity.
Forgiveness is the core of our faith; if we are not forgiving then we are in graver sin than anyone who has sinned against us. The exception is of those who do not want to be forgiven, then, as the gospel teaches, we still do not act in retribution, we just treat them like an outsider.