Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

DN 3:25, 34-43

PS 25:4-5AB, 6 AND 7BC, 8-9

MT 18:21-35

The readings for the day can be found here.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus describes the failure of a servant to learn from his own experience of being forgiven.  Specifically, the servant fails to model the same forgiveness that he has received from his king.  Instead of showing forgiveness to others who also owe him a debt, the servant responds with cruelty.

Although this parable obviously explores the challenges of forgiveness, as an educator, I am also struck by the important lessons it offers on the nature of learning.  Two things, in particular, stand out to me.

The first concerns Jesus’ immediate response to Peter’s question about the particular rules of forgiveness, or how many times forgiveness, according to Jewish law, should be granted.  Jesus basically says, “forget the rules,” and be guided instead by a true heart.  In many ways, Jesus is responding as a teacher who is frustrated by students who seemingly want only textbook answers, and perhaps even the easiest solution to a problem.  “Just tell me the answer already!” is a common frustration among young learners.  But Jesus, like many wise and practiced instructors, does not offer the easy way out, either to Peter or anyone else (even himself).  Instead we learn that forgiveness – like any real understanding of a concept – is driven less by what is written in a textbook, and more by what is written on our hearts.  Real learning, whether it is about forgiveness or any other noble quality, is not to be found in sources external to oneself.  Rather, real learning becomes part of a person’s identity; it is part of who a person truly is.

This demanding standard for authentic, or real, learning brings me to the second striking aspect of Jesus’ parable, as well as some ideas about humility from today’s other readings.  The road to real learning is marked by frequent missteps, even spectacular failures.  Real learning can and should be a humbling process.  This is why Azariah, in today’s first reading, petitions to God:  “Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.”  There is no shame in learning from failures.  Being open to trial-and-error, acknowledging our mistakes, and recognizing our weaknesses are all part of real learning.  Indeed, as Azariah’s prayer suggests, these are all part-and-parcel of being human.  But such a humble understanding of ones’ self is never an easy realization to have.  Our desire to appear competent, to seem like we have our acts together, or to impress others with what we know, or perhaps possess, often blinds us to important learning opportunities, even when they seem so obvious to others.  “How could the servant in Jesus’ parable be so cruel after he had just experienced such compassion?” we probably wonder.  The servant, like many of us, reacted in haste, without stopping to reflect on the meaning of his own experience of receiving forgiveness just moments before.  In our hasty lives, this could happen to any one of us.  And that’s one of the reasons why the Lenten season of reflection is so important if we are going to continue our journey to learn more about ourselves, others, and God.

Bryan Sokol, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement.



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