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notre dame montreal

Christian teaching, worship, prayer and Bible resources

Ordinary 24, Year A. Colour: Green

Opening Verse

saying sorry

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


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

God our redeemer, who called your church to witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us so to proclaim the good news of your love that all who hear it may be reconciled to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

First Bible Reading  Exodus 16 vereses 2-15

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death. Then the Lord said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of theLord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us? Moses also said, 'You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord. Then Moses told Aaron, Say to the entire Israelite community, Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling. While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked towards the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. The Lord said to Moses, I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God. That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. Whenn the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, What is it?For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.

Second Bible Reading Romans Chapter 14 Verses 1-12

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters.One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. 

So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgement seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' "So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Gospel Reading Matthew 18:21-35

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 

Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 

"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 

"His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 

"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Post Communion Sentence

Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law: grant that we may love you with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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