This homily was delivered by Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, at the Cathedral of Saint Eugene, Derry, for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
At this stage in the Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus continues to tell his disciples how their community of believers – which he calls ‘the Church’ – should live in ways that are radically different from their surrounding culture. Two weeks ago, we heard about the need to call people to truth. Last week and today we hear Jesus speak about abundant forgiveness. Proclaiming the truth without a radical offering of forgiveness misses the richness of Jesus’ message. What might we learn from the Master?
Firstly, Jesus was clear from the beginning of his public life that he was concerned about healing all that was broken in us. To the cripple let down through the roof, he first said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And then he healed him. Jesus reveals a God who is outrageously forgiving, so that people, no matter how deep the wounds that they suffered and caused, might be healed by forgiveness. Therefore, he went most of all to those who felt they were unforgivable. He knew that the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners needed to know God’s healing, forgiving love for them. Being cast out of the community on the basis of their lifestyle didn’t help. Those who hurt others are very often carrying much pain and rejection. Even on the cross, Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who are killing him, not vengeance on those who are offending his divine majesty. They know not what they do. God is unreasonably generous to the Prodigal Son and to those workers who come at the last hour of the day. Similarly, last week, when Peter asked about forgiveness, Jesus gives a divinely outrageous answer about how often you should be ready to forgive. Today Jesus rebukes those would ration our mercy according to some sensible human standards.