The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile's baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile. Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark; you shall cover your face, so that you may not see the land; for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.
I did just as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands; I brought it out in the dark, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.
In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, "What are you doing?" Say to them, "Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel in it. " Say, "I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity. " And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage on his shoulder in the dark, and shall go out; he shall dig through the wall and carry it through; he shall cover his face, so that he may not see the land with his eyes.
Then Peter came and said to Jesus , "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. ' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe. ' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you. ' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
Basic biblical signs such as the crossing of the Red Sea and of the River Jordan can and should be applied to our own lives, and in this we are helped by the prophet Ezekiel and by St Matthew's Gospel, through parables on how to handle difficult transitions in life. Ezekiel describes two symbolic actions by which God intended Israel to learn a vital lesson. He carries all of his belongings through a hole in the city walls, silently with his head covered, so as to see the land no more. He eats his bread and drinks water in a state of trembling. These action parables fascinate the people and absorb their attention, offering them a period of grace to think and pray. But then they ridicule Ezekiel, he declares that his actions concern Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel. We too may need to look again at some people or ideas we tend to ridicule, and question our motives; for we too can be a “rebellious house” blind to the wider truth and to the consequences of our actions.
Perhaps the most difficult barrier to cross is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often are we obliged to do so? we ask with Peter. The Lord's simple answer, “seventy times seven times” is not meant literally. So he tells the story of the king who forgave a very serious debt. The implied question is, how are we unable to forgive the debts of a neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying motive here is not “justice” but as we read in the story, the king was “moved with pity.” We are challenged by this parable: are others allowed to appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to pass, the need for patience with those who have offended us. It seems that this parable is not about some optional, higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: “My Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.” Even if forgiveness seems heroic it seems to be required!
Learning to forgive those who have hurt us is probably one of the greatest challenges in life. Peter's question to Jesus as the beginning of the gospel comes of out that sense of how difficult it is to forgive someone, 'How often must I forgive my brother?' The implication of his question is that there has to be a limit to forgiveness. Peter decides to err on the generous side, suggesting seven times would be often enough. In the biblical culture of the time, seven was considered to be the complete number. To forgive seven times is complete forgiveness; surely, no more could be asked of someone. Yet, Jesus does ask more, not seven times, but seventy seven times. There is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive. Jesus underpins this very challenging call with the parable that he tells. In that parable the servant owes his master ten thousand talents. This was a massive sum of money, equivalent to billions of euro today. It simply could never be paid back. In the parable the master felt so sorry for his servant that he simply cancelled the debt completely. Here we have the triumph of grace over justice. There is an image here of the gracious and generous way that God deals with us. Jesus reveals a God whose mercy triumphs over justice. The most memorable image of such a God is the father in the story of the prodigal son. The remainder of the parable in this morning's gospel tells us that we must allow the mercy that God freely pours into our lives to flow through us to touch others. This is what the servant who was forgiven failed to do. One of the sayings of Jesus expresses the message of today's parable very succinctly, 'Be merciful as your Father is merciful.' [MH]