24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A – Fr. Rick Sherman
Sir. 27:30 – 28:7 Rom. 14:7-9; Mt. 8:21-35
September 13, 2020
In the gospel today Peter seems to have asked yet another problematic question and then comes up pretty short in his own attempt to answer it. “Lord if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? Seven times?” And the Lord responds, “No, seventy-seven times.” In essence, infinitely, which doesn’t sound at all reasonable. I mean, how many of us might just give up on a person after, say, three or four times. (Except for marriage, of course, which is often called ‘an exercise in daily forgiveness.’ … and kids… and parents … and siblings). Maybe seven isn’t so much after all, but seventy seven? Infinitely? Why even bother so much with such disagreeable people?
Our first reading from Sirach gives us some good insight when it relates forgiveness to healing and then relates sin to wrath, anger, vengefulness and hate. Sometimes people refer to their anger and vengefulness as something that ‘eats them up’. It really does.
So how do we let things go when it’s time to do so? Again the healing gives us a big insight. We need healing when we are sick, injured or wounded. If we think of our sinfulness as something born mostly out of our woundedness, it recognizes that healing is a big part of forgiving and being forgiven. Once we recognize our own wounds and need for healing we can prepare to forgive and help to heal others. If we think all the way back to the Garden of Eden, we see that sin was born out of trickery by the Devil and its immediate effect on Adam and Eve was their confusion and fear. They no longer saw each other naked without shame. They instead covered themselves out of embarrassment and fear. Then they hid from God. Sin first caused confusion and fear which was the opposite of what God intended for them. This fear and distortion set about a generally confused state to which humans have remained severely afflicted. Just read chapters 3 to 11 in Genesis to see the unraveling of human nature. We will see quite a few very persistent tendencies.
Sin, I think, is mostly offenses born out of distortion, confusion and fear. Who has not been confused and frightened in life? I think it would be the rare person who would even claim such a thing. So if we can be confused and frightened, so can everybody else. When we can make the changes needed to restore and heal our confusion and sin, then we can see into the true nature of another person’s fallen condition. Last Friday at the daily Mass we heard the gospel of Luke exhorting us to remove the plank from our own eye before picking at the sliver from another’s eye. This of course is the work of a lifetime. It’s perpetual really. It’s the biblical ‘seventy-seven’ of which Jesus speaks.
All the polarization and villianization we see in our political and social realms are ultimately the result of confusion, distortion and the resulting fear. We don’t seem to be able to correct our many problems because we can’t trust ourselves and each other to really ask the deeper questions that foster deeper understanding. Somewhere in all the confusion is our own woundedness and sin. It’s seems easier to reform somebody else. But of course it doesn’t work so we just watch things get worse and worse and worse.
We are more and more hearing the term unprecedented when referring to the pandemic, social unrest, fire prone natural world and economic woes. In the coming years we will likely have to come to grips with much of our distortion we have been living in for too many decades. How much have humans actually contributed to the warming and now burning of the earth? Did we really need such fossil fuel intensive lifestyles and economy in the first place?
What are the implications of half of Americans not having any savings and a huge percentage can’t properly feed their children without school lunches and breakfast? That didn’t just happen. Is there something more needed than adjustments in tax and interest rates and government subsidies? Is there something about our lifestyles, consumption and breeding patterns that make certain types of poverty and addictions inevitable? Maybe we should reevaluate the great social experiments started in the sixities, especially around issues of marriage and family. Huge questions.
Are we Americans really so racist? Didn’t we work all that out with a black (or half black) president? Are we just a tribal species and geared toward survival of the fittest, ever since Adam and Eve?
Did we really need to build so many houses in the fire prone wilderness just to GET AWAY FROM PEOPLE?!! Did we really need to live so far away from more natural supplies of water? Do we need to live so far from our food supplies? We should pray very hard that our grandchildren will have forgiving hearts as they evaluate our collective choices over the last 60 or 70 years.
If we can finally admit to our collective confusion and distortions as we sort through the massive changes that might be upon us, then we can heal, forgive (ourselves and each other) and get on with the work of reordering the world back to what God intended. We actually have the full prescription for doing that in our long, rich and deep Catholic tradition. This should be the dawn of a great spiritual age and period of genuine enlightenment! That’s why Jesus established the Church; to restore us back to God’s order of things and relationships.
This might be a good week to be relentlessly honest about a relationship that needs to be healed. How can we put ourselves in the other person’s situation to increase our understanding?
This might also be a good week or month to think of the most pressing challenge we face in our world and find out everything the Bible and our Church has taught on the subject. There is a 100 percent chance that God is still on the throne and He knew this challenging period would be upon us. We have everything we need to meet the challenges we face if we will remove the plank from our eyes before picking at the sliver in another’s eye. This will help correct the distortions immensely.