17 September 2017: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Sir 27:30-28:7   Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12   Rom 14:7-9   Mt 18:21-35

Forgiving others as God forgives us

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask us to think about whom and how we forgive.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach contemplates how betrayal of confidence destroys friendship and does irreparable harm. God grants the malicious and vengeful person mercy and forgiveness only after that person first forgives his neighbor. Wisdom literature reminds its hearers that God’s commands inform moral choices and actions. Jesus takes up God’s command to forgive in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul continues his letter to the Romans. He reminds the Roman ekklesia that no matter how each Christian lives, he or she lives for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord; Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.

In the gospel, Matthew concludes his “sermon on the church.” Jesus teaches the disciples about forgiveness. He answers Peter’s question, tells a parable, and sums up the lesson with a saying:

  • Peter’s question. After Jesus’ instructions about ministering to those who hurt the community, Peter asks a follow-up question. How forgiving does the ekklesia need to be? Should we be generous and forgive people seven times? No, Jesus says, you must forgive seventy times seven–that is, an unlimited number of times.
  • A parable. Jesus’ parable is about a master’s abundant forgiveness and a slave’s stinginess. Although the slave owes the master over $152 million (in today’s US dollars), the master forgives the slave’s debt and releases him and his family from their obligation. Unfortunately, the slave doesn’t forgive his fellow-slave’s $5 debt to him. The scale of what the slave owes his master indicates the slave’s dire position and the master’s abundant mercy. Jesus compares our debt to God (and God’s forgiveness of us) with our debts to each other (and our own generosity, or lack of generosity with each other).
  • A summary saying. Jesus draw a connection between forgiveness and resentment: we cannot forgive someone unless we forgive that person “from the heart;” that is, we must release our resentment toward the person as well as forgive the person. This is how God forgives us.

Today’s readings challenge each of us to examine how and whom we forgive. Both Sirach and Jesus tell us that our forgiveness of each other must imitate God’s unlimited forgiveness. In his “sermon on the church,” Matthew notes that such forgiveness extends to tax collectors and gentiles–those outside the believing community. Finally, Jesus teaches that forgiving words aren’t enough: we must forgive “from the heart” as well. Many people turn away from the ekklesia because they do not find forgiveness among its members. Our challenge as a believing community’s is to keep Jesus’ forgiving spirit alive instead of simply memorializing his sayings. Do we recognize God’s abundant forgiveness in our own lives, especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist? Do we witness to God’s presence in our lives by readily offering extravagant mercy and abundant forgiveness to others? Do we forgive from our hearts, or only with our words?

—Terence Sherlock

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