An article by Monday Manna on the Christian Business Men's Connection (CBMC) website tells the story of a man named George Wilson. In 1829, he and another man, James Porter, robbed and killed a U.S. mail carrier. In May 1830 both men were tried and found guilty of charges, which included robbery of the mail. Wilson and Porter were subsequently sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was to be carried out on July 2, 1830. Porter was hung, Wilson was not at the time.
The then-president of the U.S. Andrew Jackson granted George Wilson an executive pardon. Wilson refused to accept that pardon.
The case subsequently made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In U.S. v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 150 (1833) Chief Justice Marshall ruled that "a pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged." And subsequently hanged he was.
Even if we are opposed to the death penalty, we still cannot but agree with the principle that pardon granted has to be accepted to become effective. This is the point of today’s parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18: 21-35).
When God forgives us, we must accept God’s forgiveness. The Gospel shows us that the way to accept God’s forgiveness is not just to say "Amen, so be it!" but to go out and forgive someone else.
This Gospel message raises the frightening prospect that pardon already granted by God can be revoked. The king who forgave his servant his debt meant it. But when the servant went out and failed to forgive his fellow servant, the king revoked the pardon. By his action the servant had shown that he was unworthy of the pardon he had been given.
This is why Jesus says," So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). In other words, when God gives us His word of forgiveness, it is not over yet. It is only over when we are able to go out and forgive those who have sinned against us. The grace of God’s forgiveness needs our response of forgiving our neighbor to be finally ratified, "Forgive your neighbors the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray" (Sirach 28:2) or "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us" (Luke 11:4).
Why do we find it hard to forgive others even though that is the only way to receive God forgiveness? The reason, it appears, is because we fail to appreciate our own forgiveness. Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on what our neighbor owes us rather than or what we owe to God, which God had graciously canceled if we forgive one another.
If we find ourselves among those who find it so hard to forgive other people, chances are that we have not come to appreciate sufficiently the immeasurable forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God.
Let us pray, therefore, for a deeper appreciation of forgiveness that will make it possible for us to let others off the hook for their offenses against us.
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, "What is This Thing Called Faith?" is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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