Breaking Open the Word
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 17, 2023
Today is Sunday, September 17th. There is a common theme throughout the readings for today. That theme is the importance of mercy and forgiveness in the life of a Christian. Most people would agree that mercy and forgiveness are not only good, but necessary. If that is the case, then why does it seem that mercy and forgiveness are a foreign concept in our secular world today.
It may be worth examining why extending mercy and forgiveness can be difficult. It seems to me, that there is something ominous, almost sinister lurking in the background when it comes to our ability to extend mercy or offer forgiveness; could it be the presence of many of the seven cardinal, or deadly, sins.
One cardinal or deadly sin is front and center in the reading from the Book of Sirach – Wrath. Wrath is defined as strong vengeful anger. However, could these other cardinal or deadly sins be partners with Wrath – Envy, Pride, Greed and Sloth.
Envy is defined as a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. When someone wounds us, our instincts tell us that this person has exerted some power over us; that they have somehow gained an advantage. Could it be that, in our subconscious, we feel that withholding mercy and forgiveness somehow levels the playing field.
The sin of Pride is often present when we have the inability to be merciful and forgiving. Pride, or inordinate self-esteem or self-importance, can be the root of our resenting that another person now has an advantage over us.
Greed is defined as a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed. We tend to think of greed in the context of material things, yet how often do we have an excessive need for something before we are willing be merciful and forgive? Often forgiveness is off the table until we get what we desire, whether it be an apology, an admittance of fault, or some form of reparation for the pain we have experienced.
Finally, there is sloth. Sloth is defined as the disinclination to action or labor, spiritual apathy, and inactivity. How often do we fail to show mercy or grant forgiveness because reconciliation often involves hard work? Why are we so spiritually apathetic and refuse to ask God for His help in forgiving others?
As we embark on this week’s journey of mercy and forgiveness, let us be mindful of the spiritual roadblocks that Satan puts in our way.
There is a tendency when reading this passage from the Gospel of Matthew to focus on the number of times we must forgive our brother. Notice these words of Peter – “How often must I forgive?” Peter is not focused on the “why” as it relates to forgiveness. Rather, he is focused on the ‘how” – how many times do I have to do this! I don’t want to forgive any more than I have too!
Christ, in this beautiful parable of the king and the indebted servant, crystalizes the “why” behind mercy and forgiveness. Almighty God is the king and we are the servant. Each and every one of us will someday stand before him as indebted servants. When it is time for us to settle our account, we will stand before Christ and we will seek His mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Do we fully expect to we receive that which we have not given in our lifetime? That is what Christ is trying to teach us in the encounter between the forgiven servant, dismissed by the king, who then seeks a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller amount yet demands full payment.
If we expect full payment, or reparation, from those who are indebted to us, yet expect mercy and forgiveness from Almighty God than aren’t we making a mockery of Him as a just God?
The word “devil” comes from the Greek word diabolos, which can be translated as, “to divide”, “to separate” or more literally, “to throw against”. Why does the devil despise mercy and forgiveness? The devil is fully aware that mercy and forgiveness tends to lead to reconciliation. Mercy and forgiveness are tools that reconcile, heal and unite us in our humanity. That is infuriating to the one who seeks to divide.
More importantly, it is through mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation that Christ accomplishes our very salvation. No wonder the devil hates it so much.
Christ is telling us in today’s parable that, if you extend mercy and forgiveness to your fellow servants, the king of heaven will extend the same to you and your debt will be forgiven.
The separation of sin melts away in the fire of mercy and forgiveness and we are fully united with God is heaven.
That is why the devil empties is arsenal and utilizes pride, envy, wrath, greed and sloth against us.
Theme in our Life Today
Mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation are themes in today’s Gospel and were consistently preached by Christ. As followers of Christ, and members of His body, it is important that we heed the words of Jesus.
Today we are invited to spend time in silence and examine when, and to whom, we have been able or unable to be merciful towards, forgiving of, and reconciled with.
In this reflection, we have been encouraged to see how the devil resists our efforts to be merciful and forgiving and how he “throws against” us the cardinal sins of Pride, Wrath, Envy, Greed and Sloth. Perhaps we need to ask the Lord to reveal to us which of those roadblocks the devil has placed in our way.
Today we are invited to bring the difficulties and challenges we may be experiencing in asking for, and offering mercy and forgiveness, to Christ and seek the graces of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and encourage us.
Prepare for Sunday
Do you find it difficult to ask for or offer forgiveness and actively seek reconciliation? Why might that be?
Do you see the devil actively placing roadblocks in the way of forgiveness and reconciliation in some of your personal relationships? If yes, what are those cardinal, or deadly sins is he weaponizing against you? What can you do about it?
Do you identify with the indebted servant in today’s parable? If you do, what is your reaction to his actions?
What do these words from the Our Father mean to you – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?