Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbour; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults (Sir. 28:7). ⧾
The parable of the unjust steward that we have just heard evidently speaks to us of forgiveness. We know that parables were characteristic of Our Lord’s preaching and all of them help us who hear them and reflect on them to enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s Kingdom and indeed, the Mystery of God Himself. Our Lord’s preaching was such that His parables are meant to lead gradually to the hidden reality that can only be discovered through discipleship (Pope Benedict XVI). In so doing, He calls our attention to a reality not always immediately evident, a reality that is seen and perceived when we listen with what St. Benedict calls the ear of our heart. There is a difference between hearing and listening. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. The deeper reality that this parable communicates is a forgiveness born of empathy. All of us are very familiar with the word sympathy or compassion; different words to express the same reality: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Empathy is the ability to experience the feelings of another person. It goes beyond sympathy.
If we reflect on this parable and consider it in greater detail we see the depth of meaning and understanding that Our Lord is communicating to us. St. Peter asks how often he should forgive a brother or sister. Our Lord responds with a parable that speaks of a king, and of slaves, people who at face value have no status and no rights. In a world where slavery was commonplace, the use of these metaphors is all the more significant. ‘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 I had mercy on you?’ (Mt. 32:33). These words of condemnation express an all too common reality: there is always someone poorer or weaker to exploit. This is the law of the jungle or of those who have neither heard the Gospel nor heeded its word of truth. We are only capable of experiencing compassion or empathy if we acknowledge the dignity or humanity of the other. The Catholic Faith unambiguously teaches the inherent dignity of every human being. The world in which the Apostles first preached the Gospel was ignorant of this truth. In fact, in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul says of the Gentiles that among other things, they were heartless [and] ruthless (1:31). St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great Cistercian Abbot observes in one his sermons that one of the greatest crimes of the Gentiles was that they were without love (The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p.1402); and precisely because of this they were filled with all manner of wickedness (Rom.1:29).