24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 17, 2023

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 17, 2023

Sirach 27: 30 – 28:9; Romains 14: 7-9; Matthew 18: 21-35

Theme: We Should Always Forgive our Offenders from our Hearts

Today is the third Sunday of the Celebration of the Month of the Word of God. Let us recall that the Catholic Church has dedicated the month of September to the Word of God. So, worldwide, we celebrate the month of the Bible this month. The theme I chose for the month of the Word of God this year is “Why We Should Always Forgive and Reconcile with Those Who Sin Against Us”. The Church exhorts all faithful Christians to venerate the Word of God in the Church as well as in our families. First, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are called to celebrate the Word of God with reverence and participate in it actively. This means we should listen attentively when God speaks to us in the scripture readings and pay attention to the priest or deacon when they interpret the Word of God to us in homilies. Second, our Mother Church encourages all parishes to establish Bible Study groups to give opportunities to the faithful to meditate, read, and study the Word of God. Since July 1st of this year when I was officially appointed your pastor, I have promised you and prepared all of us that we will start a Weekly Bible Study Group in our parish with me. So, Friday, September 1st was the official start. Note that our Weekly Bible Study group is not only for the month of September but for all the months. We meet every Friday at 6: 00 p.m. in the conference room in the office to meditate, study, and share the Gospel that will be read that weekend. Third, the Church also urges all families to venerate the Word of God at home. I recommend a “Family Bible Corner” which I think is the best option to better celebrate the Word of God in our families. A “Family Bible Corner” is a suitable place that you prepare in one corner of your living room where you display an opened Bible. It could be a small table, for example, covered with a white tablecloth (or any liturgical colors: red, purple, green, or white), well decorated with flowers, candles, and maybe with a crucifix or rosary. (See the Sunday bulletin of Sept 3rd, I inserted some pictures of the Family Bible Corner to give us an idea). The family Bible Corner should be visible to anyone who enters the house. Its purpose is to remind the household members and guest visitors that the Word of God is the center of our family. This Family Bible Corner can also be used as the place where the family meets together for family prayer, Bible sharing, or any other gathering.

Last Sunday's Scripture readings taught us how and why we should always seek reconciliation with God and with one another. Like prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, we too are appointed “watchmen” and “watchwomen” for our brothers and sisters. Our mission is to always warn them of the wickedness that leads to our death. Jesus instructed us in the Gospel to follow a three-step process in our effort to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us. To achieve both reconciliations (with God and with our fellow humans), it takes a lot of sacrifice, courage, humility, and especially great love to warn the people of their sins against God and to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us.

Today’s readings deal with the topic of forgiveness. In our first reading, Ben Sira teaches us that we should not hold wrath and hanger against our brothers and sisters but forgive them.  In our Gospel, Peter asks Jesus a question to find out how often we should forgive those who sin against us. Jesus, through the parable of the unforgiving servant, tells us that we should forgive our fellow humans with no limit. The Psalmist today sings that God is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich to compassion. We are called to show this mercy and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters because, as Saint Paul tells us in our second reading, we do not live nor die for ourselves; we live and die for the Lord.

To better understand the preoccupation of Peter, let us go back to the passage preceding our Gospel which we read last Sunday (Mt 18: 15-20). In that selection, Jesus taught us about reconciliation. Three steps were suggested in this procedure of seeking reconciliation. First, we should attempt to have a one-on-one meeting with the offenders. Second, in case of a failure, we need to initiate another meeting and involve one or two other people. Third, if the offenders still do not agree to make peace, then we inform the Church. If they still refuse after these three attempts, then Jesus instructs us to treat them as Gentiles or tax collectors.

The disciples understood very well what Jesus meant by treating someone as a Gentile or a tax collector because previously, in a few verses before that Gospel, Jesus told them the parable of “the lost sheep” (Mt 18: 10-14). In that parable, Jesus taught them that his primary mission, as well as their mission, is to seek out sinners like the Gentiles and tax collectors whom the parable identifies as “the lost sheep”. The invitation of Jesus to treat the offender who refuses reconciliation as Gentiles or tax collectors means that we have a mission to seek them out until we find them. So, the procedure of seeking reconciliation with the person who sins against us does not mean that we quit after completing the threefold steps mentioned above. Rather, it is a mission with no limit.

In our Gospel passage, Peter brought out the topic of forgiveness as it goes together with reconciliation. He is already overly concerned that Jesus asks them to work for reconciliation without limit, and now, through his question, he wants to know if this instruction also applies to forgiveness. “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (V. 21, NABRE).

Peter’s question here is not about being wronged many times. Note that Jesus developed the situation of being wronged several times in the Gospel of Saint Luke when he said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, “I am sorry”, you should forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4). In our passage, however, Peter is asking about one-time sin only. We are dealing here with a very deep hurt, the kind that remains with us for a long time and that we find ourselves having to forgive many times repeatedly. The hurt we think we have forgiven, but when we meet the offender or just recall the offense, we realize that we must start forgiving all over again.

Jesus’ answer is, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (V. 22, NABRE). The expression “seventy-seven times” means without limit.  Peter is confused by the answer of Jesus. Probably many of us feel the same. Through his question, Peter wants Jesus to set a limit because he does not want to continue to struggle with forgiving his offender whose sin continues to hurt. When will God be satisfied, up to seven times? Remember, the number seven means perfection. So for Peter, it is already perfect if we forgive up to seven times. After that, in case the hurt persists, we are done, we should not forgive anymore. Jesus disagrees with Peter. He tells us a parable of the Unforgiving Servant to illustrate why we should forgive our brothers and sisters without counting.

The analogical sense of this parable is that the king symbolizes God. The servant who owed him a huge amount represents all of us. The second servant stands for everyone who offends us. What we owe God, through our sins, is incomparably more than what our offenders owe us. The parable says that the king forgave the first servant who owed him a huge amount because he begged him to. However, the same servant failed to forgive his fellow worker who owed him a much smaller amount. While the first servant was allowed by the master to go freely, in his turn, he had his fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. The scenario ended up with the master handing over this unforgiving servant to the torturers because he did not forgive his brother as he was forgiven. Jesus concludes this parable by saying that God will do the same to us unless we forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.

This teaching of Jesus alludes to what Sirach teaches us in our first reading. He tells us that God is taking notes of our sins, and if we take vengeance on our offenders God will take vengeance on us. But if we forgive them, our sins will be forgiven when we pray. He made it clear that we cannot expect God to pardon us while we are holding a grudge against those who wronged us (see Sirach 28: 1-3).

I found at least four reasons why we should forgive our offenders from our hearts especially when we struggle with the pain of their sin. First, we should admit that we all are sinners. Through our sins, we owe God much more than what our offenders owe us. Because God forgives us without limit, we are called also to forgive those who sin against us without counting. Second, we should forgive our offenders because forgiveness enables us to love and be compassionate. When we cannot forgive, compassion slowly turns away and frees space for bitterness and vengeance. But when we are capable of forgiving, compassion gains back its strength and allows space in our hearts for greater love. The third reason why we should forgive is because forgiveness brings healing. In a scenario in which the offender is dead already or does not realize or even does not care that we are suffering from his/her offense, we should not always expect them to come to us and apologize. It is we who need healing, not them. Therefore, it is we who should initiate the process of reconciliation and forgiveness as Jesus instructed us in last Sunday’s Gospel. So, for the sake of our healing, we should forgive from our hearts those who sin against us. The fourth reason why we should always forgive is because we all will die one day as Sirach tells us in our first reading (see Sirach 28: 6). And Saint Paul invites us to always belong to the Lord, whether we live or die. To belong to the Lord or to inherit the kingdom of God, we first need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters and forgive them when they wrong us.

The Psalmist today sings that God is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich to compassion. As we are called to always reconcile with our offenders and forgive them from our hearts, let us ask for God’s grace in this liturgy of the Mass so that we become merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion like our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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