Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: Sir 27:30-28:7
Responsoral Psalm: 103:1-4, 9-12
Second reading: Rom 14:7-9
Gospel: Mt 18:21-35
By Kevin Perrotta
To get the message of today’s Gospel, ask the nearest 6-year-old. The logic of Jesus’ parable is simple: If you refuse to forgive someone for a small thing they did to you, how on earth can you expect God to forgive your sins against him?
Sure, a biblical scholar could take us through the text and its background and illuminate some points. But in the end, we would come back to the same message. The challenge of the parable is not to the head but to the heart.
I can ask myself: Who has hurt me? How deeply? What injuries have those close to me suffered?
How do I feel about those who injured me and my loved ones? Have I forgiven them? Would I be willing to forgive — and be reconciled with them, if they were willing?
As we ponder such questions, we might also note that the first reading contains a related piece of logic.
“Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” (Sir 28:3)
Now this could be taken to mean that anger has a bad effect on a person’s whole psychosomatic being, even preventing the body from healing from some sickness or other. But I don’t think that’s what the author is getting at.
Sirach isn’t talking about everyday exasperation. He’s talking about anger that is “nourished.” The Greek word for “nourish” here actually means protect, treasure up, store in one’s mind for careful consideration. Sirach is talking about harbored anger. And, in his view, keeping anger is a sick thing to do.
If I double down on my anger toward someone, holding on to my memory of my hurt like it’s some valuable treasure, if I would like to see the one who hurt me suffer, even just a little — then I am not well. The anger that I’m storing in my mind for continued consideration is like a fungus in my soul.
Obviously, I can’t begin to heal from the bitterness that has taken root in me until I’m willing to let go of it. As long as I protect my anger, it will stay there, making me sick.
Sirach doesn’t make this point to make anyone feel condemned. He presents the logic of our situation to spur us to change. His negative observation implies a positive encouragement. “Hey, if you would stop nourishing your anger, God could begin to heal you.”
So the final question is: Do I want to be healed?
Have I forgiven those who have wronged me? Where in my life do I need healing?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series (Loyola Press), teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.