Twenty-Third Sunday A: September 10, 2023

Matthew 18:15-20

Fr. John Tran

Forgiveness. To forgive and allow another to be forgiven. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Allow love to triumph, not resentment. These are all points that call to us from today's readings. Even in dark times, love must triumph.

Sister Helen Prejean, in her book Dead Man Walking, tells the real story of Lloyd LeBlanc, a Roman Catholic layman, whose son was murdered. When he arrived in the cane field with the sheriff’s deputies to identify his son David’s body, LeBlanc immediately knelt by his boy’s body and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. When he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he realized the depth of the commitment he was making. “Whoever did this, I must forgive them, I resolved,” he later told Sr. Prejean. LeBlanc confessed that it had been difficult not to be overcome by the bitterness and feelings of revenge that welled up from time to time, especially on David’s birthday. But for the rest of his life, forgiveness was prayed for and struggled for and won. He went to the execution of the culprit Patrick Sonnier, not for revenge but hoping for an apology. Before sitting in the electric chair Patrick Sonnier, the murderer, said, “Mr. Le Blanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what I did,” and Lloyd LeBlanc nodded his head, signaling forgiveness he had already given. Today’s Gospel reminds us and challenges us to continue on the path to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Today's gospel calls each of us to forgive the person who wrongs us. It is easier to say, “I will never talk to that person again!” It may be easier, but it is not the way of Jesus Christ. It is not easy to forgive, especially if we have been hurt by another we trusted. We are called to go beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort zone. Jesus is strong in telling us that we are never to tolerate a break in relationship; we are to spare no effort in healing the break. For Jesus, the person who has been injured needs to take the first step in the healing. If we feel wronged, we need to tell the offender; we cannot just wallow in self pity and judge the other. This just hardens our hearts which today's psalm warns us against. We need to meet one to one. It just be could be that we misinterpreted the words or actions of another. The wrong needs to be aired out and understood. If the personal meeting fails to bring understanding and forgiveness, then bring in a few members of the community to help each party come to an understanding of the facts to help us to see. If this too fails, the perhaps a meeting of the church can bring healing to a relationship; after all, when two or three are gathered, Jesus says, “I am there in their midst.” Why do we go through all this? St. Paul urges us to reach out to one another because we owe it to one another to love each other. This love is not easy and makes us go out of ourselves, to live outwardly. Real love does not carry a grudge. Real love makes each of us responsible for healing for each other's good. Real love is not easy or necessarily sentimental; it can take work and persistence.

The most puzzling part comes if even the efforts of the church fails. In that case, we are to treat the person as if he or she is a tax collector or a sinner. This seems a startling statement. It seems so cold, as if we are to ignore the person and quit dealing with him or her. But this is not what Jesus means. What did Jesus do regarding a tax collector or sinner? Jesus embraces that person and never shuts the door to them for repentance. After all, Jesus made tax collectors like Zacchaeus one of his best friends; he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He even made them examples of good in his parable when he compared the tax collector and the Pharisee. He chose a tax collector, Matthew as an apostle, to be one who is closest to him.

Jesus is telling us never to give up on anyone. No person is hopeless. If there was ever a time never to forgive, it was for Lloyd LeBlanc to turn his back on the person who had murdered his son. But it was for him that Jesus suffered and died. It was for him that Jesus rose from death, to free each of us from sin and death, from living only for ourselves. We must never allow our hearts to be hardened or grow cold; this is real death. Jesus, our life, calls more from us. Difficult as it is, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our lack of forgiveness could be the cause of despair in someone. That God saved Lloyd from doing, just as he saves us from living only for ourselves. In this way, our hearts need not be troubled because we live in Jesus.