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24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week our readings spoke of a conversion of heart… learning that we not only must love one another, but that we have a duty to each other.  A duty that demands that we speak out when we see injustice, personally at first, and publicly as needed.  But in order for love to survive, take root, and grow, we also need to learn to forgive…

Sirach 27:30-28:7
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Romans 14:7-9
Mathew 18:21-35

We open with a reading from the book of Sirach… which is also referred to as the “Wisdom of Ben Sira” in honor of its author (Yeshua [Jesus or Joshua = chosen of God], son of Elezar, son of Sira).  The prophet wrote during the post Exilic period, completing his work around 175 BCE, with his grandson preparing the Greek translation around 117 BCE.  The book is also referred to as “Ecclesiasticus”, which translates to “Church Book” because it was commonly used in the preparation of catechumens… like an early catechism for post Exile Israel.  Our passage today clearly sets a challenge before us, basically saying that if we are unable to forgive the sins of our neighbors, how can we expect God to forgive us our sins?  With this in mind, our Psalm reminds us that our own behavior should mirror that of the Lord’s as we sing, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.”

Our Gospel continues this theme of forgiveness.  Picking up where we left off last week (with Jesus teaching his disciples about those who may sin against you), Peter now asks Jesus how often we need to forgive.  Not only does Jesus say we need to be infinite in our forgiveness (note the numbers 7 and 77), but he gives us a parable about the servant who did not reciprocate his master’s forgiveness of his debt (a story unique to Matthew's Gospel).  This parable acts as a vivid example of what Sirach was trying to teach us from the first reading.

It is important to note that the teaching itself is somewhat self-serving… If I want my sins forgiven then I must do the same… but like all basic theological teaching, it is much more than that… because as St. Francis taught us, “it is in giving that we receive”… not just forgiveness of our own sins, but the grace we receive by taking up the cross of Christ.  A grace that is not only a reward in Heaven, but a grace that can be felt now and spread through the community.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul reminds us that we do not live or die for ourselves, but for the Lord.  Although not directly related to the theme of forgiveness, his description of living and dying for the Lord would include this as a way of living (and dying) in the way of the Cross.

Final thoughts:
Our readings this week remind us that we do not live for ourselves.  We must live for others.  We must live for the Lord.  Tragedy seems to be surrounding us today.  Earthquakes in Southern Mexico.  Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose pummeling the lands of the Caribbean and the Gulf.  Fires in Oregon and in our on back yard in La Tuna Canyon.  All this on the heals of the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and remembering the tragedies of that day in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.  In these times I am greatly heartened by the response of so many people who reach out to help.  We become our ideal selves.  In all these individual acts of heroism we become more the Christian nation we claim to be.  Would it be that we could only make this generosity of heart last.

Our readings actually provide the key to making this generosity last… forgiveness.  We’re all human.  We all make mistakes, even with those most close to us.  Without the ability to forgive each other, relationships crumble.  Civility falls away.  The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant teaches us that we must follow the example of the Lord.  As God forgives, so must we.  It’s the only way we can put past mistakes behind us and keep moving forward.  With so much acrimony in our civil discourse, sometimes tragedies like we’ve been experiencing remind us that we can all get along, provided we practice love and forgiveness.


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