September 17, 2023 —Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
SIR 27:30-28:7; PS 103:1-4, 9-12; ROM 14:7-9; MT 18:21-35
As Christian stewards, we recognize that all we have and all that we are is gift from God, and we live our lives in a grateful response to such extravagant love. This calls for continuous conversion of heart. The practices of giving a portion of our time, our talents and our treasure are essential steps on the path to conversion. But they serve an even deeper purpose than helping us remember our good intentions. They open our minds and hearts to ever-deepening surrender to the Lord, Who has given us every good thing.
Today’s readings call us to look inward to the state of our hearts, those aspects of ourselves that cannot quite be quantified or measured, but which are the deepest part of us — our thoughts and emotions.
Our first reading, from Sirach, addresses the complicated emotion of anger. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight… Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?… If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?” We have all been wounded by others at some point, some perhaps quite deeply. Our emotions are gifts from God. But we must steward them well, rather than allowing them to overcome us.
How do we do this? Sirach tells us. “Remember your last days, set enmity aside… Think of the commandments… remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” We embrace the stewardship mindset — not brooding over hurts, but recalling all the gifts our good God has given us, all the love He continually pours out upon us, and we put our focus and trust in Him.
In other words, we live for God and not ourselves. What freedom this approach to life brings! All we have is a gift from the Lord. He loves us completely and we can rest in this truth. Knowing this, we need not cling to anger over injustices. God is Lord over all. St. Paul puts it this way in our second reading from Romans: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
In our Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus gives us a provocative reminder of the true position we have before Him in light of all that He has done for us. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a “king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.” In the parable, a debtor is brought before the king, owing such an overwhelming debt that it could not possibly be repaid. Yet, the king is filled with compassion for the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go free.
Doesn’t that sound like each of us in relation to the King of Kings? The Father has given us life, and then sent His only Son to die for us to free us from our sin “debts” and make eternal life with Him possible for us. Like the servant in the parable, it is impossible to repay this debt. All we can do is thank God by giving Him our whole selves — our outward actions and our inner selves — and by treating our fellow debtors with the same compassion and forgiveness He has shown to us. In fact, Jesus rightfully and justly commands us to “forgive your brother from your heart.”
What joy and freedom of heart we find in the stewardship way of life!