Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2017)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
On the morning before I began reflecting on the scriptures for this Twenty Fourth Sunday in our Catholic calendar I picked up the current day’s issue of the New York Times and there I read of a terrible explosion that took place in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. Eighty civilians were killed; many hundreds were injured in the attack by ISIS forces. On the same page that told of this destructive blast there appeared another story titled “US Drops Mother of All Bombs on ISIS caves in Afghanistan.” No information regarding deaths or injuries. (It seems interesting that this instrument of death and destruction could be given the military designation “mother.” Mothers give life, not death. I wanted to cite these two incidents, by the way, because they are not isolated in today’s world of war.
Aside from the daily military encounters, of course, we hear almost daily of violent encounters between individuals or groups who seek to even the score over some personal affront or injury. Such clashes have been occurring since Cain and Abel first came to blows over God’s favor, flocks or crops?
Fundamentally, what most of these encounters are concerned with is retribution, retaliation for an offense already done. One side strikes back against another over some offense, real or imagined. I realize, of course, in today’s world of warfare it is often difficult to determine who might be cited as the guilty party and who the aggrieved. Nonetheless, the fundamental reason given for the attack is that an offense (seeming or real) is cited as the cause for retribution. So, the battles continue to go on as they probably have since the beginning of human history.
Aside from the military or personal battles that we read about each day, we also realize that the inclination for retaliation lies deep in each our hearts and minds. We feel a certain pride of self in our achievements. Moreover, we seem to guard all that very ferociously in our encounters with others. When we feel offended there is a swift yearning to take revenge.
Of course, there is always the nagging question that remains when we seek reprisal: what has been achieved? Are we any better served even if we believe that we have won the battle? Is our little world any the better for it? We may indeed feel that this battle has gone our way but ultimately the war in our conscience continues to disturb us.
All this is at the heart of the theme of our scriptures for this Sunday. The learned scribe who wrote the Book of Sirach first makes it clear that wrath and anger are hateful things but we still hang on to them for dear life. “The vengeful” he writes, “will suffer the Lord’s vengeance for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Finally, Sirach, winds up with the frightening words: “Remember your last days, set animosity aside; remember death and decay and cease from sin!”
Jesus, addressing the question of forgiveness in Matthew’s gospel, responds to a question of mathematics and forgiveness: The questioner asks: “How many times must I forgive my neighbor, even seven times?” “No,” Jesus responds, “not even seven times times but seventy times seven times.” (490 times!) In other words in Jewish idiom, seven is the infinite number; there is no end to the number of times one must forgive. At the end of Jesus’ story, he draws a line in the sand: “My Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother (sister!) from the heart.”
Putting all that in modern psychological terms we are asked to consider forgiveness a “heartfelt” emotion, something that is deeply engrained in our conscience, a habit that will work for us seventy times seven, twenty-four-seven.
Now, lest I end up preaching to an empty church, let me say that I have probably been working on that seventy-times-seven rule for a lot of years, but it never seems to get any easier. Of course, Jesus never did say that it would…right?
The scriptures: Sirach 27:30-28:7 • Romans 14:7-9 • Matthew 18:21-35
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time