Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Sirach is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. Sirach’s author was Joshua, the son of Sirach. He should not be confused with Joshua, active centuries earlier as a disciple of Moses and leader of the Hebrews as they passed into the Promised Land.
Some versions of the Bible omit Sirach because it was not written in Jerusalem or in Hebrew, considered by some biblical scholars as requirements for authentic sacred Scripture. The Church, millennia ago, declared that Sirach is genuine, setting aside the arguments that site and language are vital in judging the status of a holy writing.
Sirach wished to teach values to his students, drawn from Jewish tradition and belief. The need is easy to imagine. Bright lights and easy living lured the young even then.
Composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach very much had the bright lights and easy living of his day in mind. The intellectual environment all around him was powerful, affecting even pious Jews. It was filled with elevating human logic, an attitude taken from the Greeks whose military exploits had overwhelmed much of Asia Minor, including the Holy Land.
The reading frankly calls upon its audience to forgive the faults of others, and to trust in the merciful God, come what may, a position not exactly consistent with the way many people thought. Wrath and anger are hateful things, the reading insists. No one surrendering to these faults is true to God.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading. Probably the great majority of Christian Romans, to whom this epistle first was written, were less privileged. They were tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that because of these advantages the “fortunate” controlled their own destinies. Instead, Paul demanded, God controls the lives of all. He protects the just.
In the last reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus answers the question of how often, and to what extent, must disciples forgive wrongs done to them.
People then hurt each other as much as they do today. They, as we, owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. They, and we, yearn. They, as we, suffer when injured. They, and we, despair.
How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive not “seven” times, but “seventy times seven.” The number meant completely, absolutely and totally.
True Christian forgiveness must in all things resemble God. Anyone insincere or pragmatic, stingy with forgiveness, is not of God.
Christian forgiveness reflects the essence of the redemption. In Christ, we sinners are forgiven. This divine mercy displays the reality that “God is love,” and that in living by God’s standards, we should live eternally.
The Church, in these weeks on the doorstep of fall, calls us to be good disciples; but it takes no one down a primrose path. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, source of the second reading, reminds us also of who we are. We are humans. All of us must cope with human imperfections, injuries, angers and misunderstandings. It is hard.
God created us. God invites us to eternal life. God loves us. God’s will to forgive us never ends nor even pauses. He rescues us from the entrapment of human slights and disappointments.
We may choose to seek forgiveness, or not. It is our privilege as humans. We are free. It also shows our foolhardiness and denseness at times.
While Matthew’s Gospel comforts us with promises of God’s mercy, it bluntly also calls us to discipleship. As disciples, we must bear witness to God’s love by loving others. This well may be difficult, almost superhuman on occasion.
In a phrase, however, we must follow Jesus. He loved us, even to dying on the cross.
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