from: The Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert (by kind permission of the Abbot)
FIRST READING Sirach 27:30–28:9
Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. 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? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.
SECOND READING Romans 14:7-9
Brothers and sisters: 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.
GOSPEL Matthew 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized one of his fellow servants and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” — these words from the Book of Sirach remind us that forgiveness is a deep and necessary part of our spiritual tradition, handed down to us from our Jewish ancestors in faith. Jesus echoes this teaching when He gives us the “Our Father,” which tells us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The second reading today, from the Letter to the Romans, tells us that “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.” And it is our Lord who tells us to forgive. If we want to follow Jesus, then we become people who forgive others, no matter what offense they do to us. Jesus is clear that to follow Him, we will suffer, so we must take up our cross daily and follow Him.
The Gospel from Matthew today is very strong. Jesus is so clear in His teaching to us: forgive everything from your heart! We are not allowed to hold on to anything against anybody. Rather, as Jesus teaches, we must go even further and help those who harm us and give to those who rob us. To follow Jesus is not easy and asks us to give ourselves completely to Him and to following Him. Christianity will never be a life of comfort, even though we may have comforts from time to time.
We can also ask ourselves today how we relate to those around us? Are we people who forgive others? Are we people who really seek to love and serve others? Do we seek to see Christ in others? Do we look for God’s will in our lives and in the lives others?
Jesus always pulls our attention back to God and to the way God wants us to live. Always we are invited to see God in every situation and not ignore the divine presence. It is too easy for us to lose sight of God and to pay attention only to our human desires.
At the heart of the teachings of Jesus, at the heart of His own life, is this deep awareness of God’s presence in all creation and in all peoples. Even in the agony of Jesus and in the Cross, Jesus keeps His heart with love for others.
Today, we are invited to forgive and to follow Jesus once more in a way that gives witness to the glory of God. Let us walk the way of the Lord.
Your brother in the Lord,