WORD MADE FLESH
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time — September 11, 20111
Sirach 27.30-28 | Psalm 103 | Romans 14.7-9 | Matthew 18.21-35
September 5, 2011
All of this Sunday's readings are about one of the most important aspects of human life, the healing of the soul through God's forgiveness and what follows as natural consequence of it — our forgiveness of others.
While we all, consciously or not, crave God's mercy and annihilation of our sins, it is not always easy to forgive the other.
Ever since Adam and Eve left paradise, people have been struggling with sin and the killer fruit it bore in the hearts of those who have been hurt — anger, grudges, wrath and the desire for revenge.
These feelings seemed natural to the pagans. For millennia, it was understood that unless you took revenge for hurt, pain and anguish inflicted upon you or a member of your family, you had no honour.
Homeric heroes like Odysseus took revenge for granted. Odysseus' wife Penelope was courted by a large and insolent group of suitors while her husband was away, tossed by fate and strange seas for 10 years after the Trojan War.
The men did her no harm yet wasted her property. This offended the absent spouse. When Odysseus finally came home, he killed the suitors to the last man. To the ancient Greeks and Romans this was absolutely justifiable. They read the description of the slaughter and their hearts rejoiced.
The gods the ancient people worshipped were sinful and vengeful as well, just on much grander scale - they committed crimes and exacted terrible revenge both on each other and on humans.
The first gleam of light came through the true God's word in the Old Testament. We cannot appreciate the revolutionary character of the message unless we understand ancient culture.
Sirach says: Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the Lord? Healing was presented as completely dependent on the forgiveness shown to fellow human beings.
'Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor.'
How shocking it must have sounded. Healing was understood to depend on sacrifices and gifts to the gods, not on a change of attitude toward others.
Jesus, who "came not to change God's law but to fulfill it," strengthened forgiveness to the point that it is the sign by which you show your true colours as a Christian. Unless you forgive "77 times," which is always, all that you do is straw.
RAVAGES OF HATRED
I have seen families broken up and separated permanently by one person who could not forgive a tactless remark or lack of love shown years earlier. I have seen children whose young minds were slowly twisted and darkened by their parents' harbouring of old hatreds.
I have seen healthy young people whose mental and physical health was gradually destroyed by their silent nurturing of old hurts and grudges. They grew up to be depressed, bitter and lonely. God wanted to spare them that fate but none would listen to him.
Forgiving is often difficult but also necessary for our well-being. When faced with the need to forgive, it is important to remember we are not alone. God is always close to us when we try to forgive, especially when the wounds are old and deep and we think we are completely unable to do it.
It is also important to remember that forgiveness is mainly an act of will. So it is not often that we find ourselves emotionally uplifted and able to love the former enemy. Hardly ever is there a grand scene of embracing.
Sometimes forgiveness has to be broken into "smaller bits" — tiny acts of kindness which gradually close the gap. It may start with a Christmas card, a birthday card, a friendly phone call. It need not be a big scene of "I forgive you!" Such a scene may even lead to a surge of our spiritual pride.
The groundwork for forgiveness, however, has to be done within our hearts enlightened by God's presence. So if the rift in the family or marriage is deep and painful, Jesus' sacramental presence is essential.
God does not demand impossible things from his children. All we need to do is trust him and all will be well.
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