There are two main points that I would like to highlight in today’s Gospel:
1. Humility is necessary for salvation – St. Paul tells us that Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name…” So, of course, our main reason to be humble is we are always called to imitate Christ. His humility was so astounding that it is difficult to fathom. He was not merely a king who dressed in rags to become like his people. He was not merely a boss who decided to mingle with his employees. As impressive as both of those gestures may be, what Christ did is so much more awesome: He, the Creator of all things, eternal, immortal, infinite, unchangeable – He became not only part of His creation, but also a man in a humble state. What possible excuse could any of us ever have for being arrogant or prideful about our state? The virtue of humility is real self-knowledge: it is the recognition that we depend on God for our existence, for our blessings, for every moment of our life. This realization will allow us to depend on God, rather than ourselves.
Since we spoke last weekend about the fact that, while in this life, God deals with us mercifully rather than justly, it is fitting that this Sunday’s gospel also deals with the apparent “injustice” of God’s goodness and mercy.
The well-known parable of the landowner and the late-comer laborers does strike us as unjust. Workers who labored for an hour get paid as much as those who labored all day? We would rightly be indignant if this were to happen in the workplace. Unfortunately, we all-too-often think about our spiritual lives in an earthly way, as if our growth in holiness is a fair exchange between me and God: I do such and such a good deed, so God should repay/reward/forgive me. This is exactly the mentality from which the Lord is trying to remove us. As we said last Sunday, God’s goodness toward us is utterly and totally unmerited and gratuitous. It is not repayment for anything we are or do, it is not on account of God’s recognition of our goodness. God’s love makes us good.
Last weekend I focused on the difference between judgment and the difficult obligation of fraternal correction. This weekend, the focus of the Gospel is something just as difficult: forgiveness.
We all feel entitled to be forgiven when we’ve apologized, but how often and how quickly do we forgive when we are wronged? The parable used by our Lord in today’s Gospel should make us feel uncomfortable, based on how accurate a portrayal it is of how we act. The ungrateful servant, whose massive debt was forgiven, did not understand the great mercy shown to him by his master, so he didn’t hesitate to exact a much smaller debt owed to him.
In today’s Gospel, Christ reminds us of a very important obligation in charity that all of us have as Christians; namely, fraternal correction: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Go and tell him his fault? We certainly like to tell other people about our neighbor’s fault, but to tell him to his face? That is certainly uncomfortable. In a society that tells us judgment is the worst sin possible, it’s interesting that sometimes we seem to like nothing more than judgment: scandalous headlines, news stories, etc. – we all eat it up! Dirt on celebrities, athletes, politicians, religious people – that’s what sells!
Since I mistakenly wrote my column about today’s Gospel a few weeks ago, I will focus simply on the last line: “For the Son of Man will come with His angels in His Father’s glory, and will repay all according to his conduct.”
This, as you can readily discern, is a reference to the Last Judgment. What is the Last Judgment? And aren’t we all judged as soon as we die? Are there two judgments then, for those who die before the Last Day? Yes, there are two judgments.