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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 13, 2017
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2017
 
First Reading: Sirach 27:30 - 28:7
Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Second Reading: Romans 14: 7-9
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
 
When Allie Lowell divorces her husband and gets custody of their two teenage children, she moves to New York City and moves in with her best friend, Kate McArdle, also divorced and raising a daughter.  They form a unique kind of family unit in this sitcom from the 1980s.  Its title was simply:  "Kate and Allie." On one segment, all are at the dinner table except for Kate's teen-age daughter, Emma.  The phone rings and it is Emma.  When Kate (played by Jane Curtin) answers the phone, Emma says:  "Mom, I was arrested and am at the police station;  can you come to pick me up?"  Kate, looking shocked and sad, replies that she will be right there. A commercial break follows this exchange, giving the viewer plenty of time to wonder what will happen.
 
The next scene has Kate at the police station, facing Emma whose eyes are cast down.  Emma explains:  "I was with my friends, and I shop-lifted a scarf;  the store people called the police.  You probably hate me for what I have done."   Tenderly and with mercy, Kate lifts her daughter's chin and holds eye contact while saying:  "I could never hate you, I will always love you;  but I do hate what you have done."
 
This is a fine illustration that forgiveness is of a person, not of an action.  We hear in the concluding verses from Sirach that we are neighbors according to the covenant.  Judgment and hate have no place here.  And, in Romans, we are reminded that we live for the Lord, who extends mercy and forgiveness.   In Matthew, Peter is told to forgive seventy-seven times-in other words, there is no limit to the number of times we must be willing to forgive.   Though the message is crystal clear, we have very few models of forgiveness in our world; in fact the opposite is true as people seek the "justice" of revenge.
 
Although the parable of the unforgiving servant is clearly about forgiveness, perhaps it is more about hypocrisy.  The one who experiences forgiveness then in fact refuses to forgive.   We are called by the Gospel not only to offer boundless forgiveness, but to forgive from the heart.   This is hard, to be sure.  We can desire to forgive, and only accomplish forgiveness by God's grace.
 
And, what of the debt repayment required at the end of the parable?  I turn to my colleague, Sr. Barbara Reid, OP, who articulates the meaning so well:
 
The point is not that God is fickle about forgiveness, taking it back if we do not do likewise; nor that God is vindictive if we fail to follow the divine lead.  Rather, the parable is a stark warning of the consequences of letting our hearts become solidified in unforgiveness.  A heart hardened in revenge sets in motion endless cycles of violence.  The parable exposes the way that our choice to forgive (or not) redounds on us. . .Nothing we can do can take the divine forgiveness away from us, but we can do things that hinder its powerful effect on us.    (from Abiding Word, Liturgical Press, 2013)
 
And thus, as the parent Kate and her daughter Emma in the sitcom, our God raises us up with love and forgiveness.   May we also forgive one another from the heart.

 
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Spirituality
Director of the Biblical Study and Travel Program 
and the Summer Institute