Yesterday’s gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35, in which Peter asks Jesus how often he must forgive his brother. “As many as seven times?” he says naively, thinking that would be plenty.
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants…”
Thus begins the parable of the wicked servant, in which the Lord lays out in stark terms our duty to forgive.
You probably remember the story: The king calls to account a servant who owes him a huge amount of money. Since the servant has no way of repaying it, the king plans to sell him, his family, and all his belongings. But the servant begs for mercy, promising to repay the debt in time. And the king relents—not only does he decide not to sell the servant and all he has, but he forgives the loan altogether in response to the servant’s humble plea.
The first servant then seeks out another servant who owes him money and seizes and chokes him, demanding immediate repayment. The wrath of his master is immediate and severe: The first servant is handed over to the torturers until he repays his entire debt to the king.
Consider for a moment the fact that we’ve already been told the servant had no way of paying back the money. How, then, will he ever escape the torturers?
I have heard this parable as a call for me to grow in forgiveness, of course, but yesterday a particular phrase captured me: “[H]e found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount” (Matthew 18:28, emphasis mine).
I have worked, over the years, to forgive the big offenses in my life, of which there are not many. But what about the small stuff?
The other detail that struck me yesterday was the violence with which the first servant acted against his fellow servant: “He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe'” (again, Matthew 18:28, emphasis mine).
I have choked no one with my hands, but what about my words?
I call to account my fellow servants daily, over tiny debts: Each time I bellow at my children over some little thing done or undone; each time I scowl at my bride and think to myself, After twenty-plus years she ought to know.
Most of the time these so-called debts, these slights and oversights, bother me because they are things I struggle with myself. My God has forgiven me the same sins I hold against them, and worse. But it’s easier to hate these things in those I love than to uproot them in myself.
And I do violence against them with my words and so-called wit. Each thoughtless comment or caustic reply is a finger on the throat of those I love; each adds to the force of the others, bearing down, suffocating. My God has breathed new life into my lungs each time I have asked for His mercy. But me? I grasp, grip, squeeze.
Many who would willingly let themselves be nailed to a Cross before the astonished gaze of a thousand onlookers cannot bear with a Christian spirit the pinpricks of each day! Think, then, which is the more heroic. – St. Josemaria Escriva
This Lent I am working to give up sarcasm and snarkiness: the quick and cutting comments I make, usually in jest, but thoughtlessly. We are a fun-loving family who likes to play with words and humor, so this has been difficult. The kids and Jodi are keeping a running, week-by-week tally on the glass of our patio door. I’m hoping it shows a marked decline at the end of Lent.
The humor is not the problem. It’s the sting of honesty or hurt that sometimes creeps in, the mindless ease with which it spews forth, the lie of laughter tinged with pain, and the confusion that arises when those I love can’t discern between a joke and a jab because they look and feel the same.
Lord, I need your help to let go of the little things that bind me to anger and unforgiveness, that cause me to do verbal violence to those I love. Help my mind to master my tongue. Help me to love better, moment by moment. St. Josemaria, pray for me. Amen.
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