Love beyond all expectation
A reflection for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
by Dan Moynihan
Is there a more difficult teaching than what we find in this Sunday’s Gospel? “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt 18:33). The king, who was owed an enormous amount that was beyond possible to repay, was ultimately moved with mercy and forgave the slave’s debt. We understand that this debt was beyond a burden and greater than could have been expected to be restored, and yet the master was moved with generosity to reorder and renew the relationship. Placing ourselves within this parable and examining our path of forgiveness and restoration is an invitation we immerse ourselves in as the effects are at the heart of Christian living.
It is easy to find examples around us each day which could assist us in justifying actions of cruelty, vengeance, and retaliation in big and small ways. We might even hear our closest friends or relations, knowing how we have been wronged, support our harsh and unforgiving feelings. Jesus has replaced this experience of retaliation with a law of love, and what the Lord has done for us we are now invited to do for others. We may even come to see that this gift of forgiveness is the most precious and fragile gift we could ever receive.
This parable is an opportunity to hear the invitation to love beyond what is expected. As a father, I enjoy the experience of drawing my family members close and whispering, “Guess what?” And as they respond back, “What?” I answer, “I love you.” This exchange happens with such frequency that the children now anticipate and pre-empt the response, and yes, generally meet the words with an eye-roll. I trust and believe something much deeper is happening, though. The words “I love you” are laying the foundation of a reality that cannot be broken. With each exchange we are preparing ourselves for the moments when this bond could seemingly be challenged, when one of us is feeling broken, unworthy, selfish, anxious, or has done something to harm the relationship. My fatherly hope is that I will have to do little more in those moments than say, “Guess what?” and the ice can be broken and a small step towards healing and renewal can be taken.
As the Holy Father Pope Francis has invited us to understand, this forgiveness and ability to restore relationships is not optional for discipleship. It is not a mere idea that we contemplate and consider, but a concrete action that marks our way forward in community. The wake of our path is to be defined by tenderness, compassion, parental indulgence, and mercy. Do you ever find this call to forgive from the depths of our hearts challenging because the brokenness is with our closest relationships? Our parents (living and dead), siblings, children, friends? Any yet, this is precisely the call: to forgive, to renew, to restore.
At times, our judgements and resentment may have taken such a deep rooting within us, or the wrongs we have experienced have been so troubling, that we require the assistance of professionals. It is not wrong to seek out the support of proper counsellors and/or trained spiritual directors who can guide our path of reconciliation. We can take the first step today by beginning to pray for the other person(s). Asking the Lord for the grace to see the other as He sees them, to begin to recognize the Father’s abundant and unending love for them. Allowing that reality to settle into ourselves in our daily prayer can have the power to transform our understanding of who each of us has been created to be.
Today we can ask ourselves: is there someone I would like to restore or renew my relationship with? Can I hold that person in my prayer and consider how the Lord sees and loves them? Does my faith allow me to believe that a miracle of healing may take place between the other individual and myself? Who might I turn to who can assist me on this path of healing and renewal?
The readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, are
For the past 25 years, Dan Moynihan has served in many different capacities within diocesan, parish, and education systems. Currently, Dan is supporting the Diocese of London as Pastoral Services Coordinator, enabling parishes to embrace the diocesan vision: becoming a mission-oriented Church which forms disciples of Jesus.
Dan and Lisa have been married for seventeen years and have four children: Emma (14), Liam (11), Andrew (10), and Clare (8).