Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Sirach 27:30 – 28:7, Romans 14:7-9, Matthew 18:21-35.
The Liturgical Teaching on the Relationship Between Sin and Forgiveness
While there is no clear way to organize the Book of Sirach, we can say that this section of notes from which our First Reading for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time comes from in 27:30-28:7, concerns the topics of malice, anger, vengeance, and evil tongue. In particular, in our readings today, the author Ben Sira teaches that wrath and anger are the fruits of a sinful nature, writing, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight,” and that the sinner’s disposition towards wrath and anger are antithetical for those who desire mercy from God and the mercy due to those who are made in our same image and likeness, writing, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?” Here, in its teaching against vengeance, anger, and wrath, not only does Sirach read like the source material for Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but on the topic of forgiving our neighbor of their faults so that we might have ours forgiven, it sounds like the reference source of the Lord’s Prayer itself as found in two slightly different iterations in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, “. . . forgive of our sins or trespasses as we forgive those who sin or trespass against us.”
So, because the call for us to forgive our neighbor is steeped so deeply in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, even up until He gave up His life on the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” I think most Christians accept the that the price of their forgiveness is dependent upon how charitably we have forgiven others. Yet, what is challenging to overcome for many is the idea of exceptions. Some are against the death penalty, except for murder and rape. Some are against abortion children murder, except for murder, rape, and incest. We welcome the idea of forgiveness, except when it pushes us to the limits of our sensibilities. On the contrary, the depth of harm caused by sins committed against us should not hinder us from forgiving others, given that Christ Jesus Himself forgave those who were murdering Him. Therefore, how hard is it for us to forgive those who harmed us, and yet we still live?
However, this is Simon Peter’s concern in today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 18:21-35 – ‘What about the exceptions, Lord?’ saying, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” Peter even throws out a number that he thinks is an excessive amount of mercy, “As many as seven times?” Indeed, it was good that Peter offered the number seven because it allowed Jesus to juxtapose the teachings of Lamech, who had boasted that he had become even more violent than his father Cain, saying to his wives Adah and Zillah, “. . . wives of Lamech, listen to my utterance: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Here, Ben Sira’s teaching that “wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight,” is proven right again, and Jesus flips Lamech’s call to vengeance with the call to mercy, saying to Peter, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Our Lord then offers a similitude of the Kingdom of Heaven, saying that it is like a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. In the parable associated with this similitude, the servant who had his debts forgiven but did not forgive those who were in debt to him fell victim to his master, who was angered at his duplicity and turned him over to be tortured until he paid back the debt he was forgiven initially of. Pointing again to the teachings of Ben Sira, “Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” Jesus concludes the parable in positive support of the torturous treatment afforded to the duplicitous servant, saying, “So will my heavenly Father do to you unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
The fact that we have the capacity and ability to forgive is evidence that forgiveness is a gift from God, and God has extended to us the grace of forgiveness that heals our mind, body, and soul, a type of divine forgiveness that heals our relationships with our neighbors and our relationship with God. Therefore, if forgiveness is a gift from God, who are we to hold it back and not liberally give it away to any who asks for it? It is God’s gift. The Holy Eucharist itself, given to those who are free of sin, is a type of sign of God forgiveness. Therefore, we too are called give forgiveness away as freely and as often as you can. This reality that our life should be a reflection of the life of Christ in us is summed up in today’s Second Reading from Romans 14:7-9 where the Apostle Paul writes, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” We might add to these words of the Apostle that this is why Christ also gave the Church the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, and the liturgy of the Mass.
The Lord desires so much to forgive us of our sins and heal us from sin’s consequences that He gave us four Sacraments and the liturgy of the Catholic Mass. How merciful is God that He made forgiveness as accessible and easy as this to receive? In the Our Father prayer, He even gave us the means to ask for forgiveness outside of the Mass, and the means for our priest celebrant to ask for forgiveness of our venial during the Mass until we might ask for sacramental absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. As God made mercy and forgiveness as easy and accessible as this, so should we. Therefore, as long as you breath to breathe, be as merciful and forgiving as God.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.
 Gen. 4:23-24.