Acting Against Evil

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September 17, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

September 17, 2017
Matthew 18:21-35
Fr. George Smiga

Every parable has more than one meaning. That is why it is always possible to find in a parable new meanings we have never seen before. The best way to find new meanings is to begin with a question. So here is the question I would like to pose to today’s gospel parable: How is it possible that a servant who has just been forgiven a huge debt by his master goes out and demands payment from a fellow servant for a much smaller amount? How is it possible that someone who has experienced such profound mercy cannot extend even an ounce of mercy to someone else? Is this first servant dense? Does he forget the generosity that has just been extended to him?

I think neither is true. The servant who was forgiven the huge debt is either dense or forgetful. He is corrupt and insincere. I think we should see this first servant as a manipulator who uses people and circumstances for his own benefit. His words to his master, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full,” should not be seen as a sincere promise but rather as a ploy to play upon his master’s emotions. This first servant understands that his master is generous and compassionate, so he is betting that he can use his master’s goodness for his own advantage. When his master, indeed, forgives him his entire debt, this first servant does not feel thankfulness, only success. That’s why when he goes out and finds a servant who owes him money, there is no thought of generosity or mercy. The other servant is merely pawn in the game that the first servant is always playing for his own profit.

Now, when we see this first servant from this vantage point, he becomes an example to us of the people in our lives and in our world who are without moral compass, people who will do or say anything to get what they want, people whose lives are not about helping or serving but about winning, and all the people and circumstances they encounter are merely means to that end. When we see the first servant as a manipulator, the other servants become the heroes of the parable. They are the ones who recognize the first servant’s insincerity and manipulation, and they do something about it. They go and report the first servant’s cruelty to their master, and that servant’s game playing comes to an end.

When today’s parable is seen in this way, it becomes a reminder to us of our responsibility to work against what is wrong in our world. To be a follower of Jesus, we need to do more than say our prayers and be kind to others. We need to recognize the presence of insincerity and manipulation around us and do something to expose it. The message of today’s parable might be well summed up in a famous quote that is often attributed to the Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke. Burke says, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Jesus’ parable then calls us to recognize the presence of injustice, prejudice, and manipulation in the world around us and to work against it. Do you know someone in your family or among your friends who habitually finds humor in degrading people because of their race or religion? Do you know a bully at school who continually demeans others because of their sexual orientation or the way that they speak? If so, today’s parable tells us that it is not time to remain silent, but to ask: “What can we say or do to make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable and wrong?” Do you know somebody in the business community who wears a sincere face but actually uses other people for his or her own advancement? Are you aware of someone in public office or running for public office who is without moral compass, only interested in winning votes to be elected? If so, today’s parable tells us that it is not the time to do nothing but ask, “What can we say or do to expose such duplicity?”

The parable in today’s gospel warns us not to kid ourselves. There are players around us who are more than willing to use prejudice, fear, and ignorance to serve their own self-interests. That is why we, as followers of Jesus, must speak out and act on behalf of justice, mercy, and the common good.

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