September 11, 2011 — Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 27:30 – 28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
The Scripture readings last Sunday, especially the First Reading from Ezekiel 33, pointed out the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes. The wicked person who “refuses to turn from his way” and persists in his sin “shall die for his guilt.”
That dire-sounding warning has a reverse side, one is highlighted in the readings for today: God’s eagerness to forgive sinners. Particularly in portion of Psalm 103 sung as the Responsorial Psalm, we hear the Lord’s forgiveness and compassion emphasized. “He pardons all your iniquities…. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” And so we respond, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich is compassion.”
God’s willingness, even eagerness, to forgive has two consequences for all of us who seek his pardon. The first is that we are called to respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. The Psalmist reminds us, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
This thanksgiving can be expressed in many ways, but perhaps the best way is to participate in the Holy Eucharist, the central act of the Church’s worship. Eucharist, you remember comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. We ought to make it one of our commitments of Time to worship at Mass at least every Sunday and Holy Day. That’s an obligation, of course, but we can find that it is a fulfilling means of spiritual growth and source of joy.
The other consequence of seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins is the necessity on our part to forgive those who have sinned against us. That’s a difficult lesson, but one the Sacred Scriptures teaches us over and over again. We all know the Lord’s Prayer: “…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” but we may forget that it comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:12).
We also hear the same teaching in the First Reading from Sirach: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” Then, using the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus makes it plain that refusing to forgive a person who has hurt us blocks our reception of forgiveness by God.
St. Peter’s question to Jesus, “How often must I forgive?” results in the answer that the number of times we are willing to forgive must be limitless. That does not mean that a vicious person should be allowed to wreak havoc on others without restraint or without appropriate punishment. It does mean that we must stay in control of our attitude toward such a person. Forgiveness properly understood is a position of strength, not weakness.
God loves and forgives. The steward, then, responds by living a life of thankfulness to God and generosity to his neighbor. By committing ourselves and our lives to God, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “…whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”