FIRST READING (Daniel 3:2, 11-20)
Azariah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:
“For thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly, and do not break thy covenant, and do not withdraw thy mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham thy beloved and for the sake of Isaac thy servant and Israel thy holy one, to whom thou didst promise to make their descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the shore of the sea.
“For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy.
“Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee.
“And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in thy forbearance and in thy abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord!
GOSPEL (Matthew 18:21-35)
Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
“But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
“When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
A miracle of God's grace, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29th December, 2008:
The family of a teenager stabbed to death at a Sydney railway station have gathered for the much-loved youth’s funeral, saying they forgive his killer.
Andrew Motuliki, 17, was stabbed in the chest with a large fishing knife allegedly after a fight broke out between two groups of teenagers on a train at Campsie station, in Sydney’s south-west, on December 21.
Passengers on the train tried to give the Marrickville teenager first aid but he was pronounced dead on arrival at St George Hospital.
A 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been charged with his murder, as well as affray and custody of a knife in a public place.
He was refused bail in Parramatta Children’s Court the day after the stabbing death.
“This boy who did this to my son, I forgive you,” Andrew’s father Etikailahi Motuliki told the Ten Network.
“Pray to God, pray for forgiveness.”
His mother, Ane Motuliki, echoed the words of forgiveness, happy for the murder-accused to be dealt with by the courts, saying: “(I) leave up to whoever (to) deal with him”.
Shortly after the killing, the Motulikis made a tearful public plea for people not to carry knives.
“I would like to appeal to kids everywhere not to carry knives,” Mr Motuliki said the day after his son’s death.
“They need to find out another way to solve their problems.”
Following Monday’s funeral, family and friends gathered at the scene of the stabbing, singing and praying for Andrew who was killed on his way to church just days before Christmas.
FURTHERMORE . . .
[...] at the demarcation line between the trials of fire and the beguilement of old habits, stands this absolute condition which God never relaxes: as you forgive, the measure which you use will be used for you; and as you forgive, you will be forgiven; what you do not forgive will be held against you. It is not that God does not want to forgive, but if we come unforgiving, we check the mystery of love, we refuse it and there is no place for us in the kingdom. We cannot go farther if we are not forgiven, and we cannot be forgiven as long as we have not forgiven everyone of those who have wronged us. This is quite sharp and real and precise and no one has any right to imagine that he is in the kingdom of God, that he belongs to it, if there is still unforgiveness in his heart. To forgive one’s enemies is the first, the most elementary characteristic of a christian; failing this, we are not yet christian at all, but are still wandering in the scorching desert of Sinai.
But to forgive is something extremely difficult to achieve. To grant forgiveness at a moment of softening of the heart, in an emotional crisis is comparatively easy; not to take it back is something that hardly anyone knows how to do. What we call forgiveness is often putting the other one on probation, nothing more; and lucky are the forgiven people if it is only probation and not remand. We wait impatiently for evidence of repentance, we want to be sure that the penitent is not the same any more, but this situation can last a lifetime and our attitude is exactly the contrary of everything which the gospel teaches, and indeed commands us, to do. So the law of forgiveness is not a little brook on the boundary between slavery and freedom: it has breadth and depth, it is the Red Sea. The Jews did not get over it by their own effort in man-made boats, the Red Sea was cut open by the power of God; God had to lead them across. But to be led by God one must commune with this quality of God which is the ability to forgive. God remembers, in the sense that, once we have done wrong, he will for ever, until we change, take into account that we are weak and frail; but he will never remember in terms of accusation or condemnation; it will never be brought up against us. The Lord will yoke himself together with us, into our lives, and he will have more weight to carry, he will have a heavier cross, a new ascent to Calvary which we are unwilling or incapable of undertaking.
[...] But to be able to say ‘Forgive as I forgive’ is [...] one of the greatest problems of life. Thus, if you are not prepared to leave behind you every resentment that you have against those who were your overlords or slave drivers, you cannot cross. If you are capable of forgiving, that is of leaving behind in the land of slavery, all your slavish mentality, all your greed and grasping and bitterness, you can cross. After that you are in the scorching wilderness, because it will take time for a free man to be made out of a slave.
All that we possessed as slaves in the land of Egypt we are deprived of - no roof, no shelter, no food, nothing but the wilderness and God. Earth is no longer capable of feeding us; we can no longer rely on natural food, so we pray ‘give us day by day our daily bread’. God gives it even when we go astray, because if he did not we should die before we could reach the border of the promised land. Keep us alive, O God, give us time to err, to repent, to take the right course.
From Living Prayer (Templegate, 1966), pp. 30-32, by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Dear Lord, help me to forgive
when everything inside me tells me not to.
Help me let go
when my heart is so wounded that I feel it’s breaking.
Open my eyes to things that can heal me,
things that can comfort me and make me stronger.
Hold my hand and let me cry on your shoulder.
Take me to places I’ve never been,
let me stand on the highest mountain,
so I can see how foolish I am
for clinging to my anger.
Show me a glimpse of your greatness,
so that I can make it my treasure
when everything else seems to crumble around me.
Help me to make the best
of all the painful circumstances in my life;
help me to love the people who hurt me
as you love us all,
even though we grieve you every day
by our words, thoughts and actions.
Give me the wisdom to see beyond this moment,
to understand and accept
the deepest motivations that make people hurt each other.
Give me the inner strength to heal and not to break,
to comfort and not to destroy,
to repay good for evil and love for hatred.
And make my faith stronger,
so that I can cope with moments like this in the future,
turning every experience into a well,
from which I can draw drops of strength and wisdom.
Take me deeper into your love,
which changes dust and mud into gold
and makes everything worthwhile.
For you are the only help I’ve got
and in you I put all my trust now and forever.
(Adapted from HERE)