(In)Gratitude (Reflection on Mt. 18.21-35)

In one of those wondrous moments in history where a great teacher finds the summation of his teaching right before he dies, famed Orthodox theologian and churchman (I think he’d appreciate the second title more than the first) Fr. Alexander Schmemann said in his last sermon, “Anyone who is capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation.” These are beautiful and powerful words that ring and resound in the soul like all Truth does. Thanksgiving is more than a simple act; it is a lifestyle, a transformative attitude and orientation towards the world and its Creator.

Today’s Gospel reading demonstrates just this. Jesus tells a parable of a man who becomes greatly indebted; when his debts come due he is unable to pay. He begs for more time, only to have his debt forgiven. Rather than responding with gratitude, the man then goes around to those who are indebted to him, demanding they pay him immediately and in full. So not only does he not thank the one who forgave him his debts, but he doubles down on his lack of gratitude by refusing to extend the grace he received to others. 

This isn’t one of those parables that makes you scratch your head; it’s more of a fable in that its meaning and application is pretty apparent. It’s a stern reminder to extend the grace we have received to others, to be thankful, to “pay it forward,” as the cliche went a decade or so ago. As Fr. Schmemann’s saying implies, to do otherwise is to demonstrate a hard-heartedness and closed-off-ness to the world that demonstrates that something is very very wrong.

 

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