24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
We don’t know from scripture what led to the incident in the Gospel reading today. St. Matthew does not say. Following St. Ignatius I want us to use our active imagination and put ourselves into the situation with Peter and Jesus. Imagine that Peter has offered to take Jesus out on his fishing boat in the late afternoon / early evening to escape the heat of the day and enjoy a cool breeze on the Sea of Galilee. So, they go down to the boat to depart, and instead of finding everything in order, it is a total mess. Peter knows instantly that it was his brother who left this mess. – Andrew! He is steamed by his brother’s messiness and really annoyed. After all Andrew has been a slob and his messiness has ruined what would have been a wonderful evening.
Yet at the same time Peter knows that Jesus is calling him to conversion, to forgiveness, even of his own annoying brother. So with that in mind he turns to Jesus and asks him. "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? Seven Times?” Perhaps forgiving Andrew seven seems to be a lot.
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Oops, thinks Peter, I guess I need to work on my ability to forgive my brother…
But why Lord? I don’t understand. Look at this mess, Look at the impact it has on me as I need to take away from our time together to clean it up. Look at how it ruined our evening!
Where is your heart looking - to yourself or to God?
The book of Sirach gives us some clues about why imitating the love of God is ultimately good for us. It starts us where Peter is at – Look at how I suffer from Andrew’s sin! It starts us at where our heart is at, and then leads us to where God’s heart is at.
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Injustice to the self?
When we are busy caught up in injustice it is often not a holy justice, but a selfish sense of justice. And for the reason of the logic of the injustice, we can’t get beyond ourselves and the wrong to understand the injury from God’s perspective. For this reason, we hug tightly to our sinfulness.
The backpack of Gruges?
Think of that image for a second. It is like we wear a backpack of grudges, and every time we experience an injustice, instead of forgiving, and loving, we stuff the injustice into our grudge pack and keep on going. And then the day comes when the grudge pack is full, and someone gives us another grudge, and gets a whole lot back in return!
Christ calls us to conversion
Yet Christ calls us to conversion. To forgiveness. Instead of holding onto those grudges, slights, injustices ourselves, he calls us to give them to God. We surrender judgment to God who can judge justly, who judges with mercy. Whose justice is his mercy and whose mercy is his justice because God’s justice is aimed at bringing about an authentic communion of love and relationship with himself and with one another.
God invites us into this relationship, but gives us the freedom to choose or reject it.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
This challenge is codified in the Our Father – Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
IDEA: Pray an Our Father each day for each person that you feel that you are angry / vengeful towards. Do this on your way to work with them or when you recognize that you are avoiding them. It is a way of keeping this idea from Sirach foremost in our hearts.
How to respond to Injustice
When we face those who treat us unjustly, who sin against us, or persecute us, then how do we respond? With Mercy and forgiveness, with prayer and thanksgiving. Jesus shows this in the parable he explains to Peter
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.
God is the King, we are the Servants
The King is God, and we are the servants. We are in debt to God on account that he created us and invites us into a relationship of co-creation with himself, and we are called to witness the love of God to one another, and yet in our sin we destroy God’s gift. This is the debt that we cannot repay.
How does the king respond to this debtor.
1. He listens!
2. He speaks the truth with love – he points out the reality of the debt.
3. He has a greater mercy than the debtor can even imagine. The debtor pleads for time to repay and the King forgives. This is extra-ordinary love!
4. The King’s response leads the servant to Freedom so he can choose to love God more fully – rather than imprisoning him.
This is important because the King teaches us how to be like Christ.
How do we respond to this gift of Mercy?
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt.
Does the Servant Imitate the King?
When we are angry with others, when we are hurt by others do we choose to imitate the love of Christ? Do we imitate the love and generosity and forgiveness of God? This servant does not, and when the King hears how his forgiven servant responds, he has the servant suffer for failing to learn the lesson.
- The servant does not listen – he says Give me my Money!
- The servant does not forgive – he impressions
- The servant does not lead his brother to freedom, he insists on getting “His right”.
Baptism - we are called to imitate the mercy of the King as a sacrifice.
This is why we have the second reading – to help us to understand our mission as Christians in the world.
Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
What is our orientation in life – for myself and the little debts that I am owed – debts of justice, debts of uncharity, debts of cruelty? Or is my orientation to imitate Christ and his love?
For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;
Baptism is a commission to be a source of forgiveness
To die is to suffer the injustice of another and then to offer it in prayer for the salvation of the other. Remember that it is by our Baptism that we enter into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. In our Baptism we are called to share in the priestly ministry of offering sacrifice for those who cause us to suffer. Jesus took our debts with him into the grave when he died on the Cross, and then he left them there and rose to eternal life with God the Father.
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Are we watering the seed of eternal life we were given at Baptism with these opportunities for prayer, forgiveness and grace, or are we ignoring the invitations of the King?