The Gospel for Mass on Tuesday (of the third week of Lent) featured the parable of the servant who owed a large sum to the king that he could not repay. The generous and kind king forgave him the entire debt. Strangely, the man then proceeded to treat a fellow servant who owed him a small amount with severity. When the king learned of the servant’s behavior, he grew angry and sentenced him to the very punishment he had meted out to his debtor.
For our mid-Lent purposes, let’s consider the heart of the parable, for it is aimed at our hearts!
The Lord’s parable begins by describing a man who owes a huge amount, one that is completely beyond his ability to repay.
This man represents each one of us. The Greek text says that he owes ten thousand talents (μυρίων ταλάντων). This is a Jewish way of saying that this fellow owes a great deal of money, too much to be able to repay by working a little overtime or taking on an additional job; the situation is hopeless. This is our state before God. We have a debt of sin so high and so heavy that we can never hope to be rid of it on our own. I don’t care how many spiritual pushups we do, how many novenas, chaplets, and rosaries we pray, how often we go to Mass, how many pilgrimages we undertake, or how much we give to the poor. We can’t even make a noticeable dent in what we owe.
We really must get this through our thick skulls! We are in real trouble without Christ. The more we can grasp our profound poverty and understand that without Jesus Hell is our destination, the more we can appreciate the gift of what He has done for us. We are in big trouble; our situation is grave. There’s an old song that says, “In times like these, you need a savior.”
One day it will finally dawn on us that the Son of God died for us. When it does, our stone hearts will break, and love will pour in. With broken, humbled hearts, we will find it hard to hate anyone. In our gratitude we will gladly forgive those who have hurt us, even those who still hate us. With the new heart that the Lord can give us, we will forgive gladly, joyfully, and consistently out of gratitude and humility.
It is difficult to overstate how essential gratitude is for good mental, moral, spiritual, and emotional health. Grateful people are different people. They possess a joy that changes them, making them more joyful, confident, serene, generous, forgiving, and patient. It is hard to despise people when we are filled with grateful joy.
Apparently, this wicked servant never got in touch with his true poverty; he refused to experience the gift that he himself had received. As a result, his heart remained unbroken; it remained hard. Having experienced no mercy (though immense mercy had been extended to him) he was willfully ill-equipped to show mercy to others. Callously unaware of the unbelievable gift he had been given, he remained unchanged. In so doing and being, he was unfit for the Kingdom of God, which can only be entered by gladly receiving mercy.
Many Christians are like this. They go through their life unaware of their need for mercy or unappreciative of the fact that incredible mercy has been extended to them. Unaware, they are ungrateful. Ungrateful, their hearts are unbroken; no light or love has been able to enter. Hurt by others, they respond by hurting back, holding grudges, or growing arrogant and unkind. They lack compassion for or understanding of others and consider themselves superior to those whom they view as worse sinners than they are. They think that forgiveness is either a sign of weakness or something that only foolish people offer. They don’t get angry; they get even.
Beware. The Lord says that the measure we measure to others will be measured back to us. If we are wise, we realize that we are going to need a lot of grace and mercy to stand a chance before the holiness of God. The Lord makes it clear both in this parable and elsewhere that it is those who show mercy who will receive mercy (see also Matt 5:7; and James 2:13).
In order to show mercy, you must first receive it. Go every day to the foot of cross and be astonished at what the Lord has done for you. He forgave you a debt you can never repay, and He has given you myriad other graces and blessings as well. If you let this gratitude melt your heart, being merciful to others will be the (super)natural result, and even when rightly rebuking sin in others you will do so without smug superiority. You will do it in love and true mercy for the sinner and for the common good.
Grateful people are different. Be different!
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: How Gratitude Equips Us for Many Other Virtues