On Easter Sunday morning 2019 a number of bombs exploded in crowded churches in Sri Lanka killing over 200 people. I heard the report on the news that day and, in addition to the feeling of shock and horror, I was taken aback by the words of the country’s cardinal who was reported as saying that the government should “mercilessly hunt down the perpetrators because only animals could behave like that.” At one level it is not hard to understand his response; an act of horrific violence had been perpetrated on innocent families celebrating a feast of hope and love, an outrage which offended every idea of human decency and cried out for justice to be done.
Yet the cardinal’s response left me feeling deeply uneasy that Sunday morning! It stayed in my memory because it highlights one of the hardest aspects of Christianity – the demand from Jesus that we forgive and go on forgiving “seventy times seven.”
We believe that every Sunday is a celebration of Easter and every word from the Lord is a word from the risen Christ. Today’s parable of the unforgiving servant is taken from the chapter in Matthew on the life of the “Church” in which Jesus is teaching his followers that the community they are part of must always seek the way of reconciliation. As with so many of Jesus’ stories it presents an incredible scenario. The servant owes an utterly ridiculous amount of money (billions by today’s reckoning!) and his debt is cancelled because he seeks mercy and compassion from his Lord. That Jesus should be concerned about forgiveness is not new in his Jewish tradition; the Old Testament reading from today highlights the value placed on forgiveness and the dangers inherent in resentment and anger. Yet what Jesus is teaching his followers and those who want to hear the Good News of the Kingdom is that the compassion of God is woven into the very fabric of everything that exists. If we would be truly human, we must learn to open ourselves to this mystery that lies at the heart of all that Jesus said and did. Easter Sunday is the ultimate outpouring of this compassion and it is what allows us to see the world as Jesus sees it. This is the power of Easter. It is what we live out of and it is this that saves the world.
Without that vision of compassion, we have no future; without forgiveness we have no freedom. That is not to underestimate the difficulty involved. Anger is a reasonable response to hurt done and injustice inflicted but when the anger turns to resentment and hate then we are trapped. The wound festers and the vengeance we seek will not bring us peace. We live in a divided world, in divided communities and often in divided families, so as we gather for Eucharist let us focus on the ever-present gift that heals our division – the infinite mercy of God.