Dn 3:25,34-43; Ps 25:4-9; Mt 18:21-35: Humility is truth. To be humble is to live in the truth of total dependence upon the mercy of God. In English the word humility comes from the same root as humus. The humus is the good soil that is able to capture and nourish the good seed. We must be good soil to receive the good seed. Our responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 25, and it is a reflection on the need to learn the mercies of God so that we might be compassionate as our Father in heaven is compassionate. We have so much to learn from the LORD our savior. His truth and his ways we must take to heart. His ways are the ways of kindness and compassion. God’s very being is revealed in what he does. His actions in eternity and in history reveal who he is in himself and for us. We depend upon his goodness so that we can learn what is goodness. “Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.” Because of his faithful love and unexpected mercy, the LORD guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his ways of holiness and mercy. In our first reading, Azariah speaks a bold prayer that comes from a humble recognition of the sins of the people. In the midst of the fire of their exile, this holy young man prays with complete confidence in the mercy and kindness of the LORD. Saint Peter is humbled by the Lord Jesus; he summons his disciple to forgive, as we used to translate it, seventy times seven times. Here at this Lenten Mass we too make bold prayers as we ask to be forgiven as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.
Do you remember Azariah? He’s one of the three young Hebrew men thrown into the fiery furnace for offending the fragile ego of the great god-king Nebuchadnezzar . In the midst of the fire he stands up and prays aloud, indeed, Azariah teaches us how to pray. “For your name’s sake” has the same intention as “hallowed be thy name”. In both prayers we are asking God to vindicate himself to prove his holiness and justice in the midst of those who blame him for anything gone wrong and curse, do not bless, his name. Then Azariah calls to mind the covenant made with his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel or Jacob. The LORD does not need to be reminded of his promises, but in prayer, we must remember or we would not dare approach the glory of the LORD. We remember how beloved and holy were these servants of the LORD. The abundance of the promise to increase their offspring seems contradicted at this moment in history. The people of God are reduced, brought low, diminished because of their sins. Azariah recites the pain of his people, “We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you”. Yet, this humiliation does not destroy his faith. He cries out with a contrite heart and a humble spirit asking for the strength to follow the ways of the LORD with his whole heart. Azariah knows that with deep faith and a strong commitment to the Law of the LORD he and his fellow exiles will not only survive, but they will also inspire their oppressors and escape their exile. This great faith is an example to all of us on the pilgrimage of Lent and the journey of a lifetime. Finally, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil” so Azariah prays, “deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord”. We still have much to learn from the humble Azariah who prays in the fire with such boldness.
There is a little boldness in Saint Peter’s request. He asks the Lord Jesus about how often it is necessary to forgive those who trespass against him. In making the inquiry Saint Peter uses the symbolic number seven. Is he asking for a specific number? Perhaps he is asking should forgiveness have any limits? The Lord Jesus gives two answers to this question, one mathematical and the other narrative. “Seventy-seven times” seems to have some reference to the number of nations the Jews believed to inhabit the earth. Unless anyone can receive your forgiveness, you do not love everyone. Just in case you didn’t understand this command to love without limits, the Lord Jesus provides a parable for your meditation. If we have ears to hear and hearts to listen, we will not be startled by this well know and often quoted parable. This message is simple and painful to hear. No one deserves mercy. The forgiveness we receive is an absolute gift, totally gratuitous. The parable brings home the fact that we have no right to mercy, and we receive abundant mercy. Also, we have no right to deny anyone mercy. For what would we do if the Lord of Mercy treated us as we treat others? Especially when we respond to the pleas of our fellow servants, “Be patient with me”.