HOMILY FOR 24TH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME -YEAR A
Praised be Jesus Christ! Good Morning.
Last Sunday’s Gospel was about fraternal correction, about how, if someone has sinned against us, we should confront that person, admonish the sinner. It’s a spiritual work of mercy to help correct a fault in another. It is one of our responsibilities to help a brother or sister to avoid sin. We are to correct in a humble manner, the one who has offended us and thus offended God. In today’s Gospel reading, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness. The next steps after someone has sinned against us is to admonish that sinner and then to forgive the offender. Jesus emphasizes that we must forgive as many times as we are hurt. The number 77 means a very large, an infinite, number of times.
Sirach, in the first reading, says that clinging to hatred, and not forgiving an offender is a sin in itself. He goes on to say that if we sin in this way, who will forgive our sins? Jesus used a parable to reinforce the truth that if we do not forgive others, we can’t expect to be forgiven our sins by the Almighty.
It seems that in two of today’s readings God wants us to look into our hearts to examine our own attitude toward forgiveness of those who have offended us.
*We have all been hurt by another, maybe physically, but more often emotionally. Emotional hurts can linger for a long time. The offender could be someone who is close to us, such as a family member, a purported friend, even a stranger or someone who is openly hostile to us.The offense could be major or minor. It could be an unfaithful spouse or a spreader of damaging gossip. It is really very hard to forgive such a major hurt. The hurt could be a minor item such as a person who criticizes our choice of friends, our choice of political candidate, our clothes etc. Most of the time these minor hurts are relatively easy to forgive. We may even get past them without revisiting the situation. This is how God forgives; he gets past our sins. We express our sorrow and He wipes that sin from our soul. God brings us back to “square one” with a “clean slate. It is as though He forgets about sins that are forgiven.
We certainly have trouble getting past the major hurts, and even some minor hurts can just keep nagging at us. They linger, not even coming up for consideration for forgiveness. Resentment and looking for revenge feed this lingering. This resentment and the desire for revenge can actually replace the feeling of being hurt and become the heavier baggage that actually weights the person down and keeps nagging at the person. Forgiveness from the heart frees us from that baggage.
In today’s parable there is an emphasis on “debt.” Jesus is likening the “debts” of the servants to our debt for sin. The first step in our forgiving is to acknowledge that God, NOT US, is owed what Jesus called the “debt.” People who have been deliberately offended by another think that they are owed a kind of debt from the offender, some kind of “compensation” to “make it right.” This comes from the poor interpretation of “an eye for an eye,” and from our system of civil laws with punishments and monetary awards. We must remember that all sins are sins against God first and that any debt is owed to Him.
It has been said that true forgiveness is a miracle;** it requires God’s intervention. Remember Jesus came into the world, suffered and died on the cross so that we might be free from the bonds of sinful tendencies. God chose to be a forgiving God, and we must emulate Him. We must take our sins of refusal to forgive to the miracle of the cross. The cross can bring healing, because when we stand before it, we must recognize our own guilt, our own sinfulness. We all owe a huge debt to God that none of us can hope to pay.
God is the Grand Forgiver of our debts; that is the Good News. But there is a condition; we will be forgiven by God in the measure that we forgive others. Remember “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”By recognizing our own sinfulness and our need for forgiveness, we can forgive those who have sinned against us. It is not easy. It may be the hardest part of following Jesus.
In these times of politicians hurling insults at each other, I wonder how much forgiveness exists in that realm. In these times of violence in the streets, where is the forgiveness? What about racial tensions and intolerance between classes, who has indicated any amount of forgiveness there? These days anyone offended seems to want to extract the debt forever and ever.
Recently the sportscaster Thom Brennaman uttered a word very hurtful to the LGBTQ community; the word was broadcast over the air at a Reds game. He quickly apologized on the air and shortly thereafter in print. He asked for forgiveness. He was indefinitely suspended from his position with the Reds and from his position with the Fox Sports network. When I first heard about it, my thought was he will never be forgiven for that by those he offended. In the currently very contentious climate such offences are brought up again and again. People were demanding actions that would ruin his career, whatever that might be in the future.
In a subsequent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer,*** a prominent leader in the LGBTQ community, Mr. Ryan Messer, indicated how the group he represents was hurt, but said that Thom should not be fired by the Reds, that he should be given a second chance to redeem himself. Mr. Messer explained that he wanted good to come from this. He said that there was no better place for Brenneman to accomplish this “good” than with the media crew in the broadcast booth. He wanted this to turn into a learning opportunity for Brennaman and for others. He said that you have to start with grace in every situation. I presume that by the term “grace” he meant to treat Thom in a genteel behavior. He probably didn’t mean “grace” as the gift from God, although we know that “grace” from God is also required.
He meant that Brenneman should be allowed back in his positions and, THERE go through the process of transforming himself and others from persons who would use such expressions to persons who respect all people and not use such hurtful expressions.
Maybe in this way Thom Brenneman can be a channel of God’s grace for others. Mr. Messer has proved me partially wrong by at least advocating for forgiveness. If Thom Brennaman’s sorrow is sincere, he has been forgiven by God. What I find interesting is that this approach further connects “admonishing the sinner” and “forgiveness.” Not only has this hurtful sin been called out, an attempt to help the sinner avoid the sin in the future, but the suggestion of this particular approach to forgiveness includes a clear pathway to learn about the sin and how to avoid that sin. That reverts back to the aim of admonishing the sinner.
Certainly true forgiveness requires that the offended recognize his or her own faults first. These readings should prompt us to take this opportunity to examine our own faults and attitudes toward forgiveness. Let the fact that Jesus has cancelled our debt to God be our inspiration to forgive others, not trying to hold them in any debt to us.
If we are having trouble with forgiving someone, or dealing with anything that the Holy Spirit is calling us to do, we might use the following short prayer: It’s a modified from of a Prayer of Fr. Mychal Judge, who lost his life ministering to the dead and injured at the World Trade Center. This short prayer is:
* Parts of this homily based on the following: http://www.stmaryvalleybloom.org/homilyfor24thsunday-a.html
** Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgiveness - The Power to Change the Past," Christianity Today, 7 January 1983 .
*** The Enquirer, September 4, 2020 Cincinnati.com Page 5A