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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

The Experience of Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Matthew 5:7 (NKJV)

Matthew's gospel uses a parable placed at the conclusion of a long discourse containing the invitation to welcome the little ones, the parable of the lost sheep, and the handbook of fraternal correction to give us important pointers on mercy. These are a series of texts that enable us to immerse ourselves in the Matthean community, which after the enthusiastic moment following the Lord's resurrection in which it felt capable of facing every difficulty in life and mastering history, now finds itself internally facing a critical period. The climate among these believers is wearing thin, and rudeness, misunderstandings and some nastiness are beginning to appear. Forgiveness is not for everyone, although everyone needs it. It is not easily accepted advice, but a fruit of brotherhood. So Peter makes himself our spokesman and tries to set some limits: "How many times shall I forgive? Up to seven times?" Since we hardly forgive more than a few times, Peter seems to show himself quite willing and inclined to forgive, suggesting seven times: a symbolic number to indicate completeness and wholeness, but still limited. In fact, Jesus goes further and calls for openness without any kind of restriction: "I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven". Instead of addressing self-righteous exhortations, Jesus chooses to put his interlocutors back to the wall by telling the parable of the king and the two servants (Matthew 18:21-35) to invite those wronged to forgive. The choice of a simple parable is functional to the teaching to be transferred. A king discovers that he has a servant in debt up to his neck and is ready to ruin him, when the servant appeals to the goodness of the ruler who unexpectedly forgives his debt. It was a disproportionate sum: ten thousand talents. Not even a king could have paid it. Suffice it to say that Herod collected from the taxes of all Palestine only nine hundred talents. Even choosing to sell him and his family members might have repaid the debt, but it was the maximum penalty; there was no alternative. With no hope and no chance of being able to make good, the servant pleaded with the king, who in an unpredictable act, seized with compassion, decided to pay off his debt. This is what mercy does: it changes the condition of one who is in a situation without a solution, not just a state of mind of compassion toward another but a concrete action of help. The parable has a second part parallel to the first. The same servant, who has just festively left the king's hall, encounters a fellow servant who owes him a derisory sum and is so terribly inflexible toward him as to send him to prison. The one who had previously been pardoned now takes on the role of a creditor, but in the face of the small amount owed he leaves no room for the slightest mercy. He has learned nothing. His heart feels no pity, and he raises his hands to the other's neck imploring patience and has him arrested. The listener is thus led to wonder if there will be ultimate justice. And here then is a third moment. What is not done is known, goes an old saying, and so the news of the incident reaches the ear of the king who has the wicked servant called in and handed over to his tormentors, projecting us into eternity: "So shall my heavenly Father do likewise unto you, if every one of you do not heartily forgive his brother his trespasses" (v. 35). We no longer speak of debt and credit, of king and servant, but of forgiveness and brother. This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life, was lost and has been found ... will remind the father of the Lucan parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:32).

When meeting God, we recognize him as the king with the face of mercy who forgives, condones and erases. "Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). The encounter with God is to feel understood, welcomed and forgiven, as with the prodigal son, the adulterous woman. Immediately thereafter, what has been experienced must be poured out in relationships with others; we must communicate the life that transcends resentment and any insurmountable entitlement. If someone has strong resistance to forgiveness toward those who have offended him or her, he or she must ask himself or herself whether he or she has actually encountered the God of forgiveness. Perhaps the secret lies in always considering the other person a "brother," despite offending, despising or threatening. After all, another veiled truth is that without fraternity there is no Christian experience. The golden rule always remains the same: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). Forgiveness rediscovers and gives new life, so the merciful will receive mercy.


Weekly Bible Reading

Plan #48

November 21, Ezekiel 16-17; James 3

November 22, Ezekiel 18-19; James 4

November 23, Ezekiel 20-21; James 5

November 24, Ezekiel 22-23; 1 Peter 1

November 25, Ezekiel 24-26; 1 Peter 2

November 26, Ezekiel 27-29; 1 Peter 3

November 27, Ezekiel 30-32; 1 Peter 4

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