1. Introduction Since the end of apartheid, promoting peace on the African continent has been a priority in South Africa’s foreign policy. While in 1994 South Africa was the success...
It may well be that some views and opinions we expressed last week, will be challenged by this week’s readings? The scriptures have this tendency to come back and bite us in the bum or, if we prefer something more delicate, hoist us on our own petard!
This week’s scripture readings present us with a more than challenging continuation of last Sunday’s teaching. We may well start with our
OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [SIRACH 27: 30 – 28: 7]. There we read that “anger and wrath … are abominations. … Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done. … Does a man harbour anger against another, and yet seek healing from the Lord. … Do not be angry with your neighbour.“
The text itself implies, among other things, that even if a brother or sister
HAS done us wrong he or she MUST be forgiven. This has to be done even BEFORE we air our grievance one-on-one, or before two witnesses, and even prior to approaching the Church.
In addition the reading introduces us to a Christian fundamental – “if he himself … maintains wrath, will he then seek forgiveness from God?” This question should be read against words from
TODAY’S PSALM [103 or 102] – “he does not treat us according to our sins, and repay us according to our faults.” How quickly we forget our own words and actions in the particular context of a dispute. These may well have contributed to the fire?! There are times when we prefer to see ourselves as the victims while forgetting that perhaps we may well have been partial instigators?
I suggest we recognise a parallel lesson taught by Saint Paul in our
NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 14: 7 – 9].
There we read “none of us lives to himself. … If we live, we live to the Lord. … We are the Lord’s.” Now, if we accept this as true how on earth do we reconcile a life lived to the Lord with the harbouring of resentments and the stubborn maintenance of enmity with another human being? If we return to last week’s reflection how is it possible for us to celebrate Eucharist while we studiously avoid real human contact with another member of the believing community? What happens to our belief that because we are gathered in his name Christ is there among us? We should also remind ourselves of some verses from the Sermon on the Mount (our basic Christian Constitution!) where the Lord tells us that if we find ourselves about to offer our gift at the altar but are aware of a grievance with another then “leave your gift where it is …. go and make your peace with your brother … then come back and offer your gift.”
(see Matthew 5: 23 & 24)
In general, as we continue a regular reflection on the scripture readings, we should have discovered the urgent need not to read a single verse or extract in isolation from the rest of the particular book of which it is only a part. In addition, when considering one version of the Gospel record, we must bear in mind the particular focus, purpose and motivation of the individual author. However, when reflecting on one of the Synoptic witnesses we should also be aware that the three of them together have a particular thrust. A holistic approach is enriching. Once again we are faced with Saint Jerome’s admonition that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of God. So we come to
TODAY’S GOSPEL EXTRACT [MATTHEW 18: 21 – 35]. The parable recorded here appears only in Matthew. If, therefore, we take these verses together with the apostle’s other references to forgiveness, we begin to grasp his preoccupation with forgiveness within the context of community and liturgical interaction. It is impossible to divorce my participation in community worship from the status of my interpersonal relationships with the community in general or even one particular member. Recall that “when his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed.”
However, the personal challenge to each one of us is to actually consider how authentically have we ourselves accepted in our hearts and heads the forgiveness that God-in-Christ has freely, open-handedly and completely lavished on us? Then, has this acceptance contributed to the form of authentic forgiveness we have freely given to others – from the heart? It is interesting that Matthew’s record of the Lord’s Prayer differs from the other Synoptics in that instead of those who trespass against us he records “as we forgive our debtors.” (see 6:12) These words are sometimes rendered “as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.” I find it instructive that the latter rendition implies that if we have not forgiven (past tense) then we actually exclude ourselves from any expectation of God forgiving us. We are left with very little, if any, room for manoeuver.
It is clear from our Gospel extract that the wicked servant had no real, heartfelt, understanding, acceptance and appreciation of the forgiveness he had received and should have enjoyed. We must not make the mistake. Do I enjoy my forgiveness or am I simply relieved? Also, we should not downplay our need for forgiveness because we have managed to avoid so called ‘mortal sin’.
(How I dislike that terminology – sin is sin). Recall words from our Psalm – “he does not treat us according to our sins, and repay us according to our faults.” How do we treat others? How do we repay their faults?