Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2017 – Year A
Readings: Sir 27:30 – 28:7 / Ps 103 / Rom 14:7-9 / Mt 18:21-35
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Wow. That’s some pretty intense stuff. I’m not sure what I think about those readings. I think it is worth recapping the important points. In the first reading we have,“The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for He remembers their sins in detail.” In the gospel, “The master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will My Heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives from your heart.”
That’s some pretty intense stuff. I know I’m not always very good about forgiving people. For example, yesterday I had to drive back from Richmond, and I think half the slow drivers in the world were driving in the left lane. I had to constantly think “Child of God,” because often my natural reaction is to condemn them.
But that isn’t what we are called to do as Christians. We are called to forgive – not just once or twice but in this version of the story, seventy-seven times. The language used means an indefinite number, because that first servant who was forgiven had a debt so large that there was no way he could ever repay it.
When you think of the world now and in history you can see that mercy is somewhat lacking. All of the conflicts going on now – whether it’s Christians against Muslims, Sunni against Shiites, Hindus against Muslims, Tutsis against Hutus – have at their heart a lack of ability to show mercy, an ability to let go of past wrongs – and there have been some terrible wrongs. We are called to let go.
Now I know that we can’t really do anything about this global lack of mercy, but we as Christians are called to do better. We are called to be examples. Through our examples at small levels we can spread mercy throughout the Church and can have a big effect. So today I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on how we can make things better.
Before I start I want to say that what I propose is not a guarantee – like “all you have to do is pray.” Some people have suffered terrible hurt and suffering, and they may need to make use of the resources available for these needs. If you are suffering from something someone has done to you, I urge you to reach out to your health care professional, maintaining a spiritual attitude of forgiveness. I am also not advocating that in all cases a relationship that is toxic should be resumed. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go of hate and wishing the good of the other. But it does not mean restarting a relationship with the other. Prayer is always important,but it is not always the only resource.
With that in mind I want to share an observation with you. It is an observation about our Eucharistic liturgy, our Mass. I maintain that our Mass is the perfect environment to foster mercy. It is our spiritual gym. You go to a gym to improve your physical wellbeing; Mass does that spiritually. The more I think and read about it and experience it the more amazed I become. It’s like these really smart people spent the last two thousand years developing some great stuff, and it’s almost like they were guided by some supernatural power!
So I ask you to focus on a few key elements of the Mass to help you develop the ability to show mercy and the ability to let go. The Mass is structured to do just that. What is the first thing we do at the beginning of Mass? We make the sign of the cross; our focus is immediately placed above, and this is no accident. And then we participate in the penitential rite; especially the Confiteor in which we begin by “confessing” which is tailor-made to evoke mercy. If we approach it with humility, it’s hard to be humble and vengeful at the same time. If we become humbler, vengefulness will subside.
We should also approach with gratitude. We’ve all done “stuff.” God forgives us. We should be grateful for that and above all should accept that. We are taught that when we go to confession and receive absolution, we are forgiven. Too often we have a hard time accepting that, and that doesn’t help us forgive others.
The next point of the Mass I want you to think about is the Our Father. It begins with “Our Father.” Notice that God is “ours” not “mine.” God loves all of us, not just some of us; therefore, we are all sons and daughters of God and likewise sisters and brothers to each other. That most important prayer focuses that idea immediately. Later in that same prayer we say “forgive us – as we forgive others.” We are not just saying, “forgive me God,” we are saying take the way I treat others and use that as a standard to treat me. That is very powerful.
Next, think of the sign of peace. It’s very easy to just turn to your loved ones and give them a hug, but that is not what is intended. It is a communal event that is intended for everyone, even that guy that pulled out in front of you today.
Finally think of what we do after the sign of peace – we receive Communion. That very name says it all. It is community oriented – our coming together. It is a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven, and it is for all of us. The entire Mass is directed toward that one moment – trying to get us into the right frame of mind, one of humility, and move us to forgiveness, to a reaching out in hope for others.
In closing I’d like to share with you a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King which seems to sum this up pretty well. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
My brothers and sisters: peace be with you.