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.
Written in Jerusalem, originally in Hebrew, Sirach lost the right many years ago to be regarded as sacred Scripture because some very strict and conservative scholars presumed it to have been written first in Greek, instead of Hebrew. In fact, its Hebrew original was later translated into Greek.
Evidently Joshua, son of Sirach, operated a school in Jerusalem for young men. (Young women received no formal education.) His great interest was to teach ethics to his students. Thus, this book is very much a testament of Jewish belief in God and of Jewish belief in right and wrong.
Composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach indicates the intellectual environment in which it appeared. It was an environment affecting even pious Jews, filled with regard for human logic — a circumstance taken from the Greeks, whose military exploits had overtaken 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. Wrath and anger are hateful things, the reading insists. No one who succumbs to these faults should expect mercy from 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 among the poorer classes, tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that the privileged controlled their own destinies.
Instead, Paul insists, God controls the lives of all. All belong to the Lord.
For its last reading this weekend, from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus answers the question of how often and to what extent must disciples forgive wrongs done them.
Even 2,000 years ago, people hurt each other. Roughly, and generally speaking, they also lived as we live. We owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. We yearn. We suffer. 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 complete, absolute and total.
True Christian forgiveness, however, must in all things take account of, and resemble, God. Those stingy with forgiveness are not of God.
Christian forgiveness, so powerfully noted here but also elsewhere in the Gospels, reveals the essence of the redemption, that in Christ we, as sinners, are forgiven. In turn, this reveals again that “God is love,” and that always God’s will for us is that we should live eternally.
The church these weeks, on the threshold 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.
In the last analysis, we belong to God. God created us. God invites us to eternal life. God loves us. God’s will to forgive us never ends, nor even pauses.
Indeed, the fact that we may choose to seek forgiveness, or not, underscores the reality of our humanity. We are free. It also shows our foolhardiness and sinfulness at times.
While this reading from Matthew comforts us with promises of God’s mercy, it more broadly calls us to discipleship. As disciples, we must bear witness to God’s love by loving others. We must love ourselves by determining to live forever with God.
In a phrase, we must follow Jesus. The Lord loved us, even to death on the cross.
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