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24th Sunday in ordinary time: Forgiveness as inner healing

Today’s readings: Ecclesiasticus 27,33 - 28,9; Romans 14, 7-9; Matthew 18, 21-35.

St Matthew’s gospel today, like last Sunday, continues to highlight the essentials of community building and the importance of relationships that bind solidly the communities we belong to. If we lack compassion and are hard to forgive, we cannot receive forgiveness. The gospel is not saying that if we fail to forgive, then the heavenly Father will deal with us accordingly. It opens our eyes to the fact that forgiveness will be received as inner healing if it is given.

The first reading, very much on the same wavelength, sounds like a vademecum, a handbook to be kept at hand for consultation about things to remember and that make life more liveable. We do not seem to cherish so much today the idea of having a handbook at hand that can set rules, parameters, and above all, that can keep us alert to things easily forgotten.

But many a time it is what we actually and urgently need to learn how to live rightly. Life with our own selves, with others, in society, even in our inner circles of friends is becoming more and more difficult. In her book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle argues that internet use has as much power to isolate and destroy relationships as it has to bring us together. We spend so much time together, we invent ways how to entertain ourselves, yet solitude is one of the predicaments of modern living.

Pope Francis has just faced one of the most challenging journeys abroad in Columbia, a country that was the victim of a spiral of violence that seemed unending. A nation victim of wounds hard to heal, that still hurt, and that for more than half a century have generated physical and spiritual death all over the place. The Crucifix of Bojaya’ in Columbia, mutilated and wounded, was a powerful image because, as Pope Francis said: “Christ no longer has arms, nor is his body there, but his face remains”. It is when the face is distorted that we lose connection with who we are.

St Peter in today’s gospel asks Jesus a very pertinent question: “How often must I forgive?” As if forgiveness can be quantifiable, or choosy, or looking at faces! To a certain extent we are all carriers of resentment and anger, as the first reading says. Resentment and anger are in themselves sentiments that are provoked, just like all other very human sentiments. But when they remain unattended, they hurt, they generate further resentment and anger, they harden the heart, and they fester like open wounds.

That is why Ecclesiasticus urges us to remember that life is worth living if attended to. Forgiveness is not simply a faith issue. One need not be a Christian to grasp the depth of what the first reading is saying. For both believers and unbelievers, wisdom is a must, and living wisely is a choice that gives the right perspective and strengthens us to maintain it, come what may.

As long as we do not renounce to what ultimately safeguards our humanness, there is always the possibility of giving and receiving forgiveness, of healing the wounds and hurts that otherwise would make life hell on earth. Just as happened with the fellow servants in today’s gospel parable, there is so much around us that makes us feel deeply distressed. Yet beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The standpoint from where one looks at life and at what comes across, can change everything radically.

For the sake of our mental sanity it remains imperative for us all, while our feet remain grounded, to have an eye for what is beautiful, for what refreshes the heart, and for what elevates the spirit.

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