24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 17th September, 2017

Liturgical Reflection

Sirach 27:30 – 28:7 Romans 14:7-9 Matthew 18:21-35


In today’s Gospel, Peter once again gives Jesus an opportunity to enlighten him and his friends. As seven was considered a perfect number, Peter probably thought seven times would fulfil his duty to forgive an offender. Not so, said Jesus. Multiply it by ten, at least. To drive the lesson home, he told them a parable about justice and mercy.


The king in this story demands justice from his dishonest servant: ‘Pay what you owe.’ The guilty servant pleads not for justice but for mercy, to be given time to meet his master’s just demand. Whereupon the king, in a very generous act of mercy cancels the debt. We expect an appropriate response from the servant, but we are disappointed. Far from following the king’s example, he hardens his heart against a fellow servant who owes him a sum trivial by comparison with his own huge debt, now forgiven.

This parable cannot be allegorised. True to its literary form, it contains a single message. The first servant’s greatly exaggerated debt, impossible to be paid in one lifetime, speaks to us of our immeasurable debt to God, whose gifts we can never repay. The generosity of the king reminds us that in God justice and mercy are inseparable. No matter how great our need for it, we shall find God’s mercy inexhaustible, asking of us only, as Luke tells us, to ‘Be merciful as your Father is merciful.’ So, if today we hear this call to mercy, let us not harden our hearts.

Sr Mary Britt OP