24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Sirach 27: 30; 28: 7 & The Gospel – Matthew 18: 21-35

Both of these readings this week are about forgiveness: God’s mercy toward us and our mercy toward each other.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series on Mathew:

It is Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother 3 times.  The 4th time they do not forgive.  This is based on a Biblical truth in Amos where there were a series of condemnations on various nations; God forgave 3 times and then punished the sinner in the 4th.  Since we are not to be more gracious than God, forgiveness was limited to 3 times.  Peter thought he was being generous by saying 7 times, but Jesus says 70 x 7, which really means unlimited.

From Living Liturgy, Year A, 236-237:

The ‘large amount’ in the gospel is literally 10,000 talents or 100,000,000 days’ wages, an unthinkably large amount.  (John Pilch says that 10,000 talents would require more than 164,000 years of work, seven days a week.) The smaller amount is 100 denarii or 100 days wages. The exaggeration is meant to remind us how much we should be in awe of the God’s gracious forgiveness.

The Hebrew word for forgiveness means to lift and carry away; the Greek word means to send forth.  Both words tell us that forgiveness puts transgressions and their hurt at a distance – or out of our mind and focus.  We put the hurt at a distance so we can get on with healing and life-giving relationships.

Pheme Perkins reflects like this:

God’s forgiveness of us is not primarily concerned with getting himself loved, a two-party reciprocal relationship.  The parable is not meant to imply that I have some set of obligations to God . . . rather, it suggests that the experiences we have of compassion, forgiveness, mercy, extra assistance, and so on are meant to be directed outward. They are not relationships to be shaped solely on the legal model . . . the first servant’s experience of forgiveness should have changed his own behavior . . . divine forgiveness is like that – it is so unequal that it must be applied in transitive fashion to other relationships. And, the issue is how I treat the other, not how I feel about the other.

JC Arnold’s Why Forgive?:  Certainly forgiveness is sometimes given and received lightly, or used to whitewash the ugly underside of life.  But such forgiveness has no staying power.  Even the most genuine declaration of forgiveness will wear thin if it is not accompanied by a change of heart (see end of Gospel reading), both in the forgiver and the forgiven.  In other words, it must cost something if it is to have any lasting effect.  There is, moreover, little value in seeking forgiveness if we let it touch us only momentarily and then slide back into the same behavior that required an apology in the first place.  It is true that forgiveness is a gift and that it comes with no strings attached.  But it is a useless one unless we let it change us for the better  (p. 131-132).

The 2nd Reading – Romans 14:  7-9

From: “Feeling and Pain and Prayer” by Margaret Bullitt-Jones

The question is whether we are willing to let God in on the depth of our anger and sorrow and anxiety and shame. Are we willing to disclose these parts of ourselves to God? What if God yearns to know and to enter not only our warm and loving feelings, but the depth of our anger and sadness and fear and doubt? What if God not only tolerates, but actually welcomes, the expression in prayer of our true selves, including those feelings that we tend to hide away and repudiate and despise?

C.S. Lewis once observed that “the prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” If this is so, then our intention in prayer is to be our real selves and to encounter the real God. As Hart pointedly puts it, “The first principle of prayer is to be yourself. Prayer is being yourself before God.” Getting real involves opening to the truth of what we feel.

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