By Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S.

How many times have we heard people who quit going to church talk about the hypocrisy of Christians? It has become almost a cliché. Yet it is an accusation that is hard to dispute. At Mass we faithfully admit our sinfulness; then we leave the church and begin judging people. I acknowledge that I’m a sinner, but I always manage to find people or groups of people who are worse sinners than I am. There’s always a convenient scale that we employ to measure good qualities, such as faithfulness, honesty, kindness, compassion, worthiness, etc. We would never dare to put ourselves on the “perfect” end of the scale or even near to it; but we are usually satisfied to put ourselves comfortably on the “good” side.

In today’s Gospel passage, we have a striking example of someone who quickly forgets what has just happened to him. The servant begs for mercy from punishment for his debts. Not only is the punishment forgotten, but the debt is forgiven. This would seem to be a true jubilee moment, a life-changing blessing. However, the servant is not changed by this—at least not changed for the better. The experience passes by him like a breeze. He immediately forgets his shame and desperation. Even narrowly escaping the horrifying prospect of having his wife and children sold into slavery makes no impression on him. And as we see by his actions toward his fellow servant, he didn’t take the master’s mercy as an example to follow. He doesn’t use the same scale that the master used to determine mercy. Despite his huge debts, he was accorded a place on the worthy side of the scale; yet he assigns his fellow servant to the No Mercy end.

Why do we forget our beliefs and our blessings when we look at the suffering and sinful people around us? Is this willful forgetting? Is it defensive? Or is it just plain rottenness? Simple explanations are not to be found. This involves the complexity of human personality, with its weakness and vulnerability. It is understandable that we want to put difficult experiences behind us, especially those that cast us in a bad light and expose our weaknesses and sinfulness to others. But when we push those difficult memories into the dark recesses of our minds, we also miss the good parts. What if the servant had recognized the blessings of what happened to him? Maybe he would have cherished his family even more. He could have enjoyed the experience of being debt-free. He would have had compassion for people who had been in his position. He would have learned to treat others as he wished to be treated, not just out of obligation, but out of humility and joy.

Let us pray to God for the strength to actually live our beliefs and to follow the true example of Jesus.

 

 

Brother Matthew Schaefer, C.PP.S., is in ministry at the Downtown Dayton parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph.