In order to get the right answers about life, it is necessary to ask the right questions. A lot of people get the right answer to the wrong questions and end up wondering where and why they missed out on life.
For instance, a person may enter college asking, “What career can I choose that will make me the most money?” He may find the right answer to that question and yet be bitterly disappointed with his discovery.
All across America there are many wealthy executives who are absolutely miserable, both in their professional and their personal lives. They would gladly trade their six-figure salary for some sense of genuine contentment. What went wrong with their lives? They found the right answer to the wrong question. They approached life wanting to know the where and how of money. They found the answer, but they didn’t find life.
But if that young person had asked and found the answer to a very different question: “Where can I make the highest contribution and find the deepest satisfaction?” he may or may not make a lot of money, but one thing is certain — he will discover life and he will do a lot of living. In this life, it is not enough to find the right answers. We must first of all ask the right questions.
In today’s Gospel, Peter asks the wrong question. He asked, “How many times must I forgive?” Jesus didn’t specifically answer him because it was the wrong question. Jesus says seven times 70 or 490 times, but that was just a way of talking.
The real question is not, “How many times must I forgive?” but rather “Why should I forgive at all?” Why should I forgive even one time? If I can find the right answer to that question, I will never even ask the other. If I can understand the nature and necessity of forgiveness in the first place, then I can apply it to every situation throughout life. So, “Why should we forgive at all?” There are two very definite answers to that question in today’s Gospel.
Jesus had a subtle way of pointing out to Peter this inequity in his thinking. He told a story about a servant who owed his master far more than he could pay, but he pleaded for mercy and got it. Then that same servant went to a fellow servant, who owed him a very small debt, and demanded full payment on the spot.
By implication, Jesus was saying to Peter, “As much as you have been forgiven in the past, and as much as you will need forgiving in the future, you have no right to place a limit on your forgiveness of others.” And it’s the same with us.
It gradually spreads its spiritual poison throughout that person’s entire life. The person who refuses to forgive inevitably becomes sour, cynical and sad — and we all know people like that.
In Jesus’ parable the unforgiving servant “was handed over to the torturers.” What do you suppose he meant? He was simply saying that an unforgiving person’s life becomes like living in a torture chamber. The person who will not forgive hurts a lot of people. He destroys relationships, he alienates people and he breaks hearts. But most of all, he hurts himself; and the only way to end the torture is to forgive and forget.
I started off by talking about the necessity of asking the right questions. Peter asks the Lord, “How often must I forgive?” That was the wrong question. The right question is, “Why should I forgive at all?”
And the answer is two-fold: First, because I need forgiveness myself, and 2) because when I fail to forgive, I hurt myself more than I hurt anyone else.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 17.
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