24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – What We Hear, We Forget. What We See, We Remember. What We Do, We Understand.

Matthew 18:21-35 | 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

What We Hear, We Forget.

What We See, We Remember.

What We Do, We Understand.


Jesus led by doing. He didn’t assume we would just hear what He said and believe; He lived out what He taught. But until we choose to live His way for ourselves, the elusive “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) won’t be ours. Jesus knew the act of doing was the linchpin to conversion.

Jesus died and so our sins are forgiven. But until we actually forgive someone ourselves, we can’t understand what the loosening of those chains means. The servant in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant certainly did not.

Not only does he owe something akin to the size of a national debt, but the servant also imagines that, with a small grace period, he’ll be able to pay off this impossible loan. The story doesn’t say, but he probably also thinks, “And…I won’t get into this kind of trouble again.” Sounds like a gambling addiction. Or any kind of addiction. Actually, he sounds very human. It’s human to keep striving for better.

Perhaps the master sees that in him. In any case, he forgives the debt. It’s done. No grace period. No nothing. The servant is free to go on his merry way.

But then the servant does another very human thing. He turns on a fellow debtor. Rather than extend compassion, he imprisons the man. But in doing so, he also imprisons himself. Now, the man can never repay him. He’ll never get his money, and both men are stuck. Change isn’t possible. Peace can’t occur.

Jesus was all about change; conversion was His life’s work. But to acknowledge the necessity of change, we have to recognize brokenness. The first servant never acknowledged his brokenness—that he had gotten himself into an impossible mess— and the second never had the opportunity to. And so both men are stuck.

Jesus doesn’t want us stuck. He wants us to spend time in in prayer and reflection but prayer and reflection are not stagnation. Prayer and reflection prepare us for the doing that Jesus pushes us towards. Experience is how we grow.

So to understand the great gift God has given in us through Jesus’s death and resurrection—the forgiveness of our sins—we have to experience doing the forgiveness. We have to release someone else from the debt they owe us—physical or emotional. It’s not easy, but even Confucius knew that it was only in doing that we would truly understand. It’s the only way we ourselves would ever feel forgiven.

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