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Ordinary Time 24 (A)
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Readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Sirach 27, 30 to 28, 7
  • The reading begins with something we could all agree on: Wrath and anger are hateful things.  But whose wrath and anger?  Surely ours!  After all, the scriptures show that it is right for God to show wrath and anger in the face of our wrongs and infidelity.  As for us, we have no right to imitate God in this, because we are all sinners.  God remembers their sins in detail.
  • These eight short sayings of Ben Sira are addressed to us.  And what does the sage counsel us to do?  Forgive, pray, show mercy.  Then we shall receive healing and pardon.  We are to recognize someone greater than ourselves when you pray and think of the commandments. 
  • These sayings from the Jewish wisdom tradition were adopted by the early Christians.  For example: Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, and your own sins will be forgiven.  It foreshadows today’s Gospel.
  • The last two verses remind me that I am not the controller of my life.  Remember your last days, remember the Most High’s covenant.  We are not ourselves the ultimate measure of greatness.  We are the Lord’s and we return to the Lord.  Many people can rise to the occasion on their deathbed, seeking to reconcile themselves with family and friends.  But why wait until our last day?  I will try to persuade my listeners and myself to reach for such humility today.
  • I will treat each saying as a separate unit, with a slight pause between them.  At the same time I will show how one thought is connected with the next.
  • Central point: These verses bring to mind the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us as we forgive them.  Listen to this verse: If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?  One verse after another forms a steady refrain.  First come our acts of forgiveness, and then comes forgiveness for us.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us all measure ourselves and whatever goodness we may have by the measure of God, who alone has a ‘right’ to anger.  The sage made this clear in a negative way: The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance.  I hear in this a trace of the serpent’s taunt in the garden, that if we desire to act vengeful as the gods we shall have our fill and more than our fill.  And if I listen very carefully I will hear an undertone of the Beatitudes: if we show mercy we shall receive mercy.
  • I will challenge myself: to speak persuasively on behalf of forgiveness, and think of a case in which I must learn to reject my pride and forgive my neighbor.

 

2. Romans 14, 7-9

  • I hear a reminder that we have been set free by Christ, but this freedom is not the same as being libertarian.  We do not live for ourselves, but we live for the Lord. 
  • The same truth holds in an even stronger way about death.  We avoid talking about death because we are not in control.  We take on diets and undergo surgery to prolong our lives.  We do not die because we planned it that way!  No one dies for oneself. 
  • As I read, I will show by my affirmation my own faith in Jesus as Lord of both the dead and the living.  I can’t help repeating the first stanza of that meditation on our mortality by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland: ‘World’s strand, sway of the sea / Lord of living and dead.’
  • Climax: Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  This original and definitive 24/7 saying is well known to everyone.
  • The message for our assembly: This is why Christ died and came to life!  We look beyond the scourgings and the nails and the shame of the cross, because those movie sensations cannot provide us a foundation for our faith.  The cross was not an end in itself but a way for the merciful God to be revealed to us.
  • I will challenge myself: To make this short passage memorable for the congregation, so that they will not only agree with the apostle but will take the trouble to dedicate their lives and deaths to the Lord.

 

Gospel. Matthew 18, 21-35

  • First comes the famous exchange: How often must I forgive?  Not seven times but seventy-seven times.  With my expansive voicing of the great number I will make it clear that Jesus meant for us to ‘forgive without ceasing.’
  • Then Jesus leads us into the time of the Kingdom: The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts.  As steward of my household, naturally the story captures my attention.  
  • I can’t help noticing, being a credit evaluator, that some of the rules here are quite different from those we have learned in our society (the presidential pardon resembles it).   An enormous debt is written off and a servant is set free!  Since he had no means of paying it back… indicates to me that the king stands for God and we are like the son who sinned before heaven and before his father. 
  • But this servant has already betrayed himself.  He thinks he is still in control: Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full.  I should emphasize the words ‘I will.’  He did not ask for compassion – he did not even want it – and yet the master was filled with compassion.
  • In this light the encounter with his fellow servant makes more sense.  He seems to say: “I intended to pay my debt, and I intend to make you pay yours.”  He has become like a god, as I said already, imitating a master by demanding repayment.  The fellow servants saw and were greatly disturbed because they did not accept such anger untempered by mercy. 
  • They went to their master and reported the whole affair.  I guess I should assume that they tried to reason with the unjust servant first and then blew the whistle.
  • You wicked servant!  The king’s voice is controlled but shows disappointment, perhaps like Jesus when he awakens his disciples in Gethsemane: Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant?  He puts him in his place, too. 
  • Climax: It is decisive and it comes at the last sentence: So will my heavenly father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother. 
  • Message for our assembly: We are all created equal and are all fellow servants in God’s eyes.  God desires mercy and not justice from us.
  • I will challenge myself: To make our congregation listen even more closely to the exchanges between the persons in the parable, especially in the light of the first reading from Ben Sira.

Word to Eucharist: If my greatest adversary, or the person who in my opinion has the most un-christian stance among my partner communicants, were processing in front of me or even handing me the Body of Christ, would I accept it?  Do we forgive from the heart, even those with whom we have strong differences?  This is the sign of Christians.  Remember the prayer: "in all things love."

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