Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent
(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)
There is a problem implied in Jesus’ parable. If one is to forgive continually, then what should be done if the servant who, after being forgiven his debt, then demanding immediate repayment of his fellow servant, and finally being reprimanded by his master for insincerity, were to ask for forgiveness again? Should he not be pardoned?
Obviously, Jesus would not agree. Forgiveness turns on the genuineness of the guilty party’s contrition. The servant shows that his original petition is insincere since in a similar case with roles reversed, he refuses to show mercy. The commandment to forgive “seventy-seven times” applies when the offender really intends to change his or her ways. If the request for forgiveness merely simulates contrition, one would be foolish to honor it.
We sometimes worry about the sincerity of our own intentions when we find ourselves confessing the same sins every time we go to Confession. Does God forgive us? We must never underestimate God’s mercy. It is more abundant that the grains of sand on a seashore. But God is also implicitly discerning. He reads human hearts with infinitely greater perspicacity than a copy editor reads text. He knows when we really intend to change our ways. But He also knows that bad habits are difficult to break and allows us plenty of opportunities to mend our ways.