September 11, 2020

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Sirach is the source of the first biblical reading for Mass this weekend. Sirach’s author was Joshua, the son of Sirach. (He should not be confused with Joshua, active centuries earlier as a disciple of Moses and leader of the Hebrews as they passed into the promised land.)

Protestant versions of the Bible omit Sirach, since it was not written in Hebrew, considered by some biblical scholars as requirements for authentic sacred Scripture of the Old Testament. The Church, however, millennia ago, declared that Sirach is genuine, setting aside the arguments that language is vital in judging the status of a holy writing.

Sirach wished to teach values to his students, drawn from Jewish tradition and belief. The need is easy to imagine. Bright lights and easy living lured the young even then.

Likely composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach very much had the bright lights and easy living of his day in mind. The intellectual environment all around him was powerful, affecting even pious Jews. It was filled with elevating human logic, an attitude taken from the Greeks, whose military exploits had overwhelmed much of the Middle East, including the Holy Land.

The reading frankly calls upon its audience to forgive the faults of others and to trust in the merciful God, come what may, a position not exactly consistent with the way many people thought. Wrath and anger are hateful things, the reading insists. No one surrendering to these faults is true to God.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading.

Probably the great majority of Christian Romans, to whom this epistle was written, were less privileged. They were tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that because of these advantages the worldly fortunate controlled their own destinies.

Instead, Paul demanded, God controls the lives of all. He protects the just.

In the last reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus answers the question of how often, and to what extent, must disciples forgive people who wrong them.

People then hurt each other as much as today. They, as we, owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. They, and we, yearn. They, as we, suffer when injured. They, and we, despair.

How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive, not “seven” times, but “seventy-seven” times (Mt 18:22). The number meant completely, absolutely and totally.

True Christian forgiveness must in all things resemble God. Anyone insincere, pragmatic or stingy with forgiveness is not of God.

Christian forgiveness reflects the essence of the redemption. In Christ, we sinners are forgiven. This divine mercy displays the reality that “God is love,” and that in living by God’s standards, we should live eternally (1 Jn 4:8).

Reflection

The Church, in these weeks on the doorstep of fall, calls us to be good disciples. But it takes no one down a primrose path. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, source of the second reading, reminds us also of who we are. We are humans. All of us must cope with human imperfections, injuries, angers and misunderstandings. It is hard.

God created us. God invites us to eternal life. God loves us. God’s will to forgive us never ends nor even pauses. He rescues us from the entrapment of human slights and disappointments.

We may choose to seek forgiveness, or not. It is our privilege as humans. We are free. Rejecting to seek forgiveness also shows our foolhardiness and denseness at times.

While Matthew’s Gospel comforts us with promises of God’s mercy, it also bluntly calls us to discipleship. As disciples, we must bear witness to God’s love by loving others. This well may be difficult, almost super-human on occasion. God’s grace is always there, though, to help us to do this.

In a phrase, however, we must follow Jesus. He loved us, even to dying on the cross. †

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