Sunday Scripture Readings

twenty-fourth sunday

in ordinary time,

september 15

Sirach 27:30, 28:7; Psalm 103;

Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

OUR GOOD NEWS: The Church - community of the forgiven who forgive. Accepted as part of the Old Testament by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox but not by Protestants, Sirach (also called Ben Sira and Ecclesiasticus) was composed two centuries before Jesus' time. Today's passage disproves a misconception about the Old Testament preoccupation with law and fear as opposed to the New Testament focus on love. It illustrates the Jewish roots of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer and parables such as today's Gospel. We cling perversely to hurts as if they are prized possessions, feeding on real or imagined wrongs and filling ourselves with bitterness and resentment. Sirach warns that God "remembers in great detail" our own faults when we nurse grievances committed by others. Those who demand "justice" will get it ... for their own failings! This teacher of wisdom advises us how to avoid divine retribution ("vengeance"): "Forgive your neighbor the wrong he or she has done." God treats us the way we treat each other. As members of God's Chosen People we enjoy an intimate covenant relationship with him and with one another. To avoid the punishment of everlasting death, we not only forgive but "overlook faults" - accepting others as they are rather than criticizing, despising or rejecting them. Disapprove sin but love the sinner; show genuine concern for their welfare. The New Testament teaching on love hardly demands more than Sirach! "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless His holy name." The psalmist's repeated self-exhortation reveals a near-compulsion to "bless" (tell the greatness of) God who is utterly different and set apart ("holy"), yet a kindly and generous benefactor. Anything else would be sheer ingratitude! The second stanza appeals to an individual experience of divine concern in the unexpected recovery from serious illness. Since healing is the outward sign of inner forgiveness, restored health means restored relationships with God. "He redeems your life from destruction" - a person with one foot in the grave ("destruction," literally "the pit" or abode of the dead) God has made us feel like a king on enthronement day or a bridegroom at his wedding. "He crowns you with kindness and compassion." The final stanzas praise God for his generous concern toward his covenanted people. We deserve protracted, determined litigation, taken to court ("chide" means "go to law") for our repeated sinful disobedience. Instead, He sets aside justifiable anger and tempers just retribution with mercy. Thank God, our God doesn't "make us pay!" "For as the heavens are high above the earth ... as far as east is from the west" - the psalmist uses measureless distances, vertically and horizontally, as similes for God's marvelous acceptance of sinners. The greatness of his hesed/fidelity to his generous covenant promises compares with the height of the sky above the earth. His forgiveness "moves/puts away" the baleful effects of our rebellion to the farthest end of the world. Such are the benefits accruing to faithful, God-fearing members in the community of His elect. Instead of "throwing the book at us," God throws away the record book of our sins!

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