11th Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today, we hear of a man who was deeply in debt, owing a great fortune to the king. The king wanted to settle his accounts with his servants and therefore demanded the payment of this debt. The poor servant could in no way pay back this great amount and so the king ordered that he and his wife and children should be sold into slavery to repay the debt. The man fell on his knees and begged the king for mercy and patience to give him time to try to pay back what he owed. The king was moved to compassion by the cries of the debtor and, with a loving heart, forgave him everything.
When this man went out, he found one of his fellow servants who happened to owe him some small amount of money. This time, the one who had just been forgiven so much, showed no mercy and threw the debtor into prison. When the king heard about this, he called the first man before him and said, ‘You wicked servant, I forgave you the great debt that you owed, and you have turned around and shown no mercy on the one who owed you so little.’ In anger and righteous indignation, the king put this man into prison until he was able to pay back all that he had originally owed.
Our Lord Jesus Christ concludes this parable telling us that this is how our Heavenly Father will treat each of us unless we forgive our brother from our heart. The message is very clear – if we expect to be forgiven, if we expect to receive mercy, then we must forgive and show love and mercy toward others.
As Christ emphasized elsewhere in the Gospels: ‘Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’
Do we wish for the world and our homes to be a kinder place? Then it is up to us to take the lead and be kind. Do we wish others to treat us with love and kindness? Then we need to take our focus away from any perceived injustices of others and place our focus on our own behavior and thoughts… assuring that we do our utmost to treat others with love and kindness.
This is the foundation of Christian ethics. And yet how often do we lose sight of these things?
One of the greatest pitfalls that we all tend to fall into to one degree or another is the expectation that ‘justice must prevail’. This enters into our interactions and relationships with others as well as our theological understanding and relationship with God.
We are called to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. Too often, this is interpreted by us in the following way: ‘If I treat others kindly, then I have the right to expect others to treat me in the same way’. But this is NOT the Gospel teaching… and this expectation of reciprocal justice is the source of so much of our conflict with both God and others.
St. Isaac the Syrian said: ‘Never say that God is just. If he were just, you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice - which is mercy, love and forgiveness.’
A story is told of a mother pleading with a king to spare her condemned son's life. The king argues that the crime committed by the son was dreadful; justice demanded his life. ‘Your majesty,’ sobbed the mother, ‘I am not asking for justice, but mercy.’ ‘He does not deserve mercy,’ was the answer. ‘But, your majesty, if he deserved it, it would not be mercy,’ replied the mother. ‘Ah yes, you have spoken the truth,’ said the king. ‘I will have mercy.’
The ways of God are not the ways of men. The mercy and love of God shine upon the just and the unjust alike. So then… if God’s mercy is extended indiscriminately, what makes the difference between the righteous and the damned?
The key is in the disposition of one’s ability to receive God’s mercy or not.
Remember our Lord’s words quoted earlier: ‘Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’
We embrace and we live these Christian ethics, these ways of being, not because in doing so we will deserve the reward of heaven. We embrace these ways of being because they transfigure us! In being merciful, in judging not, in condemning not, in forgiving… we unite ourselves to Christ – to His holiness, His mercifulness.
As we hear during the Divine Liturgy: ‘Holy things are for the holy! One is holy, One is the Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.’ The Kingdom of Heaven, the grace and the mercy of God… these are holy things. And these holy things are given to the holy. Like is given to like. Our job is to grow that image of God within us into the likeness of God. This is what transforms us into being receptacles of grace, of being able to receive that mercy and forgiveness of God. Mercy is given to the merciful. Forgiveness is given to the forgiving.
May each of us show forth mercy and patience and love toward others. In doing so, we emulate and align ourselves to the One Who shows forth mercy and patience and love to us.