Saturday, August 29, 2009


A culture of entitlement has arisen in contemporary America. Many feel that they are entitled, by the mere fact of their existense, to whatever they can get. Their only concern is that their own egotistical needs and desires be fulfilled, sooner rather than later. Our schools encourage this attitude by striving to bolster the student's self-esteem without reference to any actual accomplishment or success.

In the Gospel parable, a servant owes his master an incredible sum of money (somewhere in the neighborhood of 52 million dollars). When the master demands the money and threatens to sell the servant and his family into slavery, the servant falls at his feet and beseeches him to give him more time (though it's obvious there's no way he could ever pay back so great a debt). Then the master has compassion on his servant and forgives him everything.

Now one would think that having been forgiven so much and recued from sure and certain ruin, the servant would be overwhelmed by gratitude toward his master and a burning desire to show a similar compassion toward others. Such, however, is not the case. Having taken leave of his master, he immediately encounters a fellow servant who owes him a paltry sum (perhaps $44) and grasps him by the neck, demanding the money. No doubt he feels entitled to the master's compassion, but he feels no obligation whatsoever to "pass it on." When the fellow servant begs him for more time, he hardens his heart and has the poor wretch thrown into prison.

When expressed in such simple and obvious terms, it is easy for us to judge and condemn the wicked servant for his ingratitude and lack of compassion. How could he have forgotten so quickly how he himself had been shown mercy and saved from the most dire circumstances? But the fact is, we ourselves have been forgiven so much more than a mere temporal debt. Through our Lord's voluntary death on the Cross, we have been forgiven the crushing burden of our sins and saved (if we so choose) from an eternal hell of our own making. Nor is this all: Christ offers us the gift of eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.

Like the servant in the parable, however, we're quick to forget (or never really reflect upon) all that the Master has done for us. How often do we become angry and make harsh judgments against our neighbor, take offence at the slightest provocation, harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness toward those who have grieved us in any way? And this happens because we so very self-centered and consider our own needs and desires to be more important than those of others. We lack that genuine humility without which it is impossible to be saved. Nor do we feel truly grateful for God's great gift of salvation, because deep down we feel entitled to it. Of course we pay lip service to our own sins and imperfections, but in our hearts we feel we're nearly perfect, or if not, we darn well should be.

This is why it is so hard to forgive: true forgiveness requires a humble heart that regards our neighbor (even our worst enemy) as more deserving than we are. If we can indeed say with St. Paul that we are the "chief of sinners" while fully realizing that Christ nevertheless suffered and died for our salvation, how can we not forgive from the bottom of our hearts all those who have in any way offended us?

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