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notre dame montreal

Christian teaching, worship, prayer and Bible resources

Ordinary 24, Year A. Colour: Green

Opening Verse

God forgives

Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Post Communion Sentence
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead:
Intercessions from our Sunday worship

God's JusticeIntroduction

The reading from Matthew today involves Peter asking Jesus how many times he has to forgive. Since Rabbis at the time taught three times, Peter must have thought he was being very generous suggesting it might be as many as seven times. Jesus tells that we must forgive seventy times seven, this is taking the arithmetic of forgiveness to unimaginable lengths, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, 'to infinity and beyond' ! Jesus wants his disciples to know the boundless nature of God's mercy, and having known that infinite divine grace and mercy, they must learn to forgive others.

Opening Verse of Scripture — Ephesians Chapter 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Collect Prayer for the Day - before we read, we pray

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

First Bible Reading  Exodus 14:19-31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.’

Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. NRSV

Second Bible Reading Romans Chapter 14 Verses 1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God. NRSV

God forgivesGospel Reading Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

Commentary - Forgiveness

Today the reading from Matthew is about forgiveness and if past years are anything to go by there will be people stopping me on the door saying things like, ‘It’s alright you talking about forgiveness but if you think that I’m going to forgive her…’ Usually people struggle with forgiveness because they think that it implies pretending that something in the past didn’t happen, or it implies condoning something bad. So this morning we will look at forgiveness and we will also think about some of these issues. 

Forgiveness must be unlimited 

First of all forgiveness must be unlimited. Peter comes to Jesus and he asks about forgiveness and he is really sharp. He knows Jesus is into forgiveness and so instead of suggesting that we should forgive once, or twice, or three times, he really goes for it, he suggests no less than seven times ! 

It must be said that Jesus appears quite mean, because he takes Peter’s seven and doesn’t just make it a bit more, he makes it unimaginably more — seventy times seven. Jesus makes Peter’s attempt at generosity seem totally lame. 

Seventy times seven means that there is no way that you can keep count, it would have to be unlimited. I once went to a restaurant which served on the menu, ‘coffee and unlimited fudge.’ After a while that was removed from the menu and it became just ‘coffee and fudge.’ I often wonder what episode caused that description to change and have the menu’s reprinted!  But with Jesus he really does mean unlimited forgiveness. Why?

Forgiveness is good for you 

Forgiveness is about you, not the person you are having to forgive.  The Greek word for forgiveness is apheemei. It means “letting go.”  On a purely human level forgiveness is good for you. Forgiveness is much more beneficial to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven. Forgiving, letting go of feelings of revenge and retribution, is a potent healing act.  Research shows that holding on to anger increases your chances of a heart attack, don’t ask me how but the psychologists tell us that it also increase cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other illnesses.  Forgiveness however boosts your self-esteem and lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. Forgiveness also helps you sleep better at night and boosts a positive change in your attitude.  Studies have found that those who forgive no longer had feelings of anxiety and depression and felt better about themselves. Forgiveness "reduces anger, hurt, depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence."

Forgiveness has healing power in the lives of those who utilize it.  Forgiveness means letting go of stuff which hurts us and that must be good. Do you remember the story of the trapped monkey?  They put coconut in a jar and the monkey reached into the jar and got the coconut and couldn't get his hand out. He pulled and pulled to try and get away but he couldn’t get his hand out. He wouldn’t let go and so he got caught.  So we have too must let go and set ourselves free. Forgiveness is letting go of the anger, letting go of the resentment and letting go of the hurt that lives within our hearts. 

Forgiveness also should not be simply equated with forgetting. 

Does this mean we have to forget? Two men were talking about marriage. One man said, “My wife and I argue a lot, and every time we argue she gets historical . His friend interrupted him, “You meant to say that she gets hysterical , didn't you?” The first man responded, “No, when my wife and I argue, she doesn't get hysterical; she gets historical . She drags up everything from the past and holds it against me.”  So can we forgive and forget? Should we ?

There is quite a lot of contradicting advice about whether we can forgive and forget. Forgiveness doesn't say, "it's like it never happened" -- that's amnesia. I suppose humanly speaking there are sometimes things which we can never put out of our minds, but forgiveness means that if we look back on them then they have no power to hurt us and we give them no power to hurt others. 

The slogan “forgive and forget” is about denial. There are some hurts and scars from our past that need to be remembered.  If we don’t remember some of the hurts of the past and refuse to be victim to them again, then we stand to repeat our past mistakes. But, we remember the hurts of our past not to repeatedly play the role of victim or to hold the perpetrators hostage with guilt. Instead we are empowered to make wiser choices in the present and the future.  Remembering the hurts of South African apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that forgiveness draws out “the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.” 

Tutu says, “We must forgive if there is to be a future.” 

Forgiveness does not require us to forget. What it does require is “release,” the release of the negativity and hostility associated with the past. Letting go.  Christ compels us to forgive so the desire for revenge will not poison our souls. 

Forgiveness is not condoning wrong.

Forgiveness does not require us to forget, neither does it require us to ignore injustice or injury. Sin must be acknowledged for what it is both by the victims and the perpetrators. Too often, Christians equate forgiveness with passively accepting or ignoring wrong. 

If we ignore the wrong and do not recognise sin for what it is, then we are dangerous people. So often the church has preached that forgiveness requires persons to be allowed second chances, this has meant that victims have been victimised.  This has been seen where priests have bee relocated away from churches where they have abused children. 
It is seen when women are sent back to marriages with abusive partners.  Forgiveness does not condone sin, or ignoring wrong. Forgiveness insists that perpetrators confess, repent. 
Forgiveness should not be equated with reconciliation, it takes two to be reconciled, it only takes one to forgive. Today we are talking about us and what we must do, forgive. The behaviour of the one who is forgiven is quite a different story. If a person accepts forgiveness, then the assumption is that they know they are naughty, want to change. 

Forgiveness is about you alone. Setting yourself free from the burden of the past.  Anger, vengeance these are things which burn us up. It was Gandhi, who said "an eye for an eye" leaves the whole world blind. Forgiveness on the other hand allows us all to let go and move on. 

We forgive because we are forgiven 

The forgiveness which we are concerned about today is not just about a psychological process which is good for us. For the Christian forgiveness has a completely different and spiritual quality. We have no choice about whether to forgive, because we have been forgiven. As we realise the cost of forgiveness shown by Jesus, so we cannot be other than forgiving. Since we know immeasurable forgiveness, how could we possibly be miserly with forgiveness towards others? There is a direct correspondence between our ability to forgive with our understanding that we too have been forgiven. As our souls are at peace with God, so we are at peace with others. 

To be a Christian is to be somebody who knows they are forgiven, and to be a person able to forgive 

You don’t just forgive because it’s good for you, 
You don’t just forgive because the Bible tells you to, 
You forgive because you have been forgiven. 

As the writer of Ephesians puts it, "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Charles Royden

Sermon or Audio Sermon

Meditation: Forgiveness

“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened by eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.” From the memorial at the former World Trade Center


  1. Come let us join our cheerful songs (Nativity)
  2. Praise him in the morning
  3. Through the night of doubt and sorrow (Marching)
  4. O for a thousand tongues (Lyngham)
  5. From all that dwell below the skies (Lasst uns erfreunen)
  6. New every morning

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead 

Faithful God, we need your forgiveness, constantly renewing our lives, freeing us to be a people of faith, hope and love made whole by your grace. We pray for those struggling to forgive others; people who have had great wrongs done to them or to those they love. Loving God, help us to forgive from our hearts. Amen

We pray for those who cannot forgive themselves; people who cannot live with the knowledge of what they have said or done. We pray for those in desperate need of forgiveness; people torn apart by guilt or regret, their lives in need of rebuilding. Loving God, help us to forgive from our hearts. Amen

We pray for ourselves, learning to offer forgiveness by absorbing hurts and not returning them; learning to offer to all the forgiveness made known in Christ upon the cross. Loving God, help us to forgive from our hearts. We pray for ourselves, learning to accept forgiveness as we give our lives in faith to you our loving Father, learning to accept the forgiveness offered by others as we live in humble love with one another. Loving God, help us to forgive from our hearts. Amen  Companion to the Revised Common Lectionary, Intercessions, Christine Odell

May you experience the breadth and length and height and depth of the forgiving love of the trinity, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen

Additional Resources

Passing Judgement

Today's readings follow on from last week's and continue the theme of forgiveness and unity, living together with, and resolving, conflict. 

In Roman society, it was considered the height of bad manners to "pass judgement" on the conduct of another man's servant; each servant was answerable to his "own lord" or master. Paul picks up this theme in Romans when he states 'To his own master he [the servant] stands or falls'. Similarly for Paul, each Christian will stand before God's judgement seat and will be answerable to Him alone. Even if we see others as weak we should not judge them; for God will judge us all at the end of time as we each give an account of ourselves to God. However, what we are called to do is continually forgive each other time and time again, no matter what the circumstances.

Peter's question in the gospel reading tries to clarify what this might mean. In his response Jesus indicates that true forgiveness has no limits. This sets the Christian way apart in an age when so many groups utter angry denunciations and act violently toward those who differ with them. Forgiveness is not merely an ideal toward which we should strive, but the most practical way of settling our differences and living together as neighbours in a global society. Moreover it illustrates the principle of forgiveness Jesus gave us in the Lord's Prayer.

Sometimes we mix up forgiveness with the concept of saying sorry. Forgiveness involves both being sorry and being restored, being reconciled to God and each other. The gospel we preach is a gospel concerned not just with our being sorry for our sins, but with their forgiveness and the wholeness we can experience in Christ through being reconciled to God. 

Forgiving ourselves and each other can be costly because it involves letting go, giving something up. Its costly because it entails acknowledging the need of forgiveness allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and to be loved. It means facing up to ourselves. Some forgiveness demands a degree of restitution, not as the repayment for past wrongs, which can mostly never be repaid, but because injustice and loss are acknowledged.

Forgiveness is facing realities and doing something which changes the balance. It disturbs the established values. Forgiveness and being forgiven is about liberation, letting go of control, accepting that debts can sometimes never really be repaid, accepting above all that God is in control. 

Jesus calls us to forgive each other from the heart, not just with our voices, so that we can be made whole. For Jesus the depth and breadth of forgiveness was limitless, in terms of both it's scale and its frequency. He calls us to forgive others as He has forgiven us, quite a challenge in a fallen world.  Sam Cappleman