24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Sunday Church at Home
during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic
The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:
Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
All reply: Amen
Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All reply: Blessed be God for ever
Leader: Forgiveness is one of the great qualities of Christianity. We are challenged to forgive each other as readily as God forgives us. We celebrate God’s mercy, and ask for the grace to pass it on to those who hurt us.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
First Reading: Sirach 27:30-28:7
Introduction to the reading: The book of Sirach was written by a wise teacher who lived 200 years before Christ. Sirach ran a school for young people in Jerusalem. In today’s section, he teaches his students the importance of forgiveness
A reading from the Book of Prophet Sirach
Anger and wrath, these also are abominations, and the sinful person will possess them. The person that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord, and they will firmly establish their sins. Forgive your neighbour the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbour anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? Do they have no mercy toward a person like themself, and yet pray for their own sins? If they themself, being flesh, maintains wrath, who will make expiation for their sins? Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbour; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook ignorance.
The word of the Lord.
Responsorial psalm: Psalm 103:1-2.3-4.9-10.11-12
R/: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in mercy.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all within me, his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and never forget all his benefits.
It is the Lord who forgives all your sins,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with mercy and compassion.
I He will not always find fault;
Nor persist in his anger forever.
He does not treat us according to our sins,
Nor repay us according to our faults.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so strong his mercy for those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far from us does he remove our transgressions.
R/: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in mercy.
Second reading: Romans 14:7-9
Introduction to the reading: In the concluding section of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes about the moral demands of Christian life. This letter was written some years before the Gospels, yet these words will sound very much like words we hear in the Gospels. Clearly, Paul is drawing upon a pre-Gospel tradition about what Jesus said.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
After dealing with the controversies which divided the early Christian community in Rome, Paul wrote about the need for tolerance and for sensitivity to the feelings of others. In today’s passage, he points out that this affects our use of the gift of freedom.
The Word of the Lord.
A new commandment I give to you, says the Lord, that you love one another; even as I have loved you.
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
At that time: Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents, and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection on the Readings
The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.
I was at a retirement village to celebrate Mass. We were chatting about life in the village. One woman, well into her nineties, proudly said that that she did not have an enemy in the world. I was impressed and thought: What a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years! And then she added:- ‘I have outlived them all’.
Jesus ben Sirach wrote a book of wisdom about 200 years before the birth of Jesus. This book (also known as Ecclesiasticus) was a text for the education of wealthy young men in Jerusalem. Sirach observed his contemporaries, and he saw the discord and violence around him. He saw: vengeance, anger, and a lack of mercy and forgiveness. So, what’s changed since he put down his quill?
Looking at a round up of news this week – it seems not much has changed. The news reports on people being killed, violent demonstrations, horrific rapes and lots of bad news, people losing jobs and families going hungry. What about in our own families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces? Does Sirach speak to those worlds too? In the early church the Book of Sirach was used for instructions to the catechumens. In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures believers were called to renounce anger and resentment. How serious was this obligation? So serious that Sirach tells us if we don’t extend forgiveness to one who has offended us, we should not expect God to forgive us. Wow!
Peter approached Jesus and asked, “If my brother [sister] sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter had been with Jesus long enough to know how central forgiveness was in his teaching. I guess he was trying to show Jesus that he had learned what he expected from his followers. “As many as seven times?”, Peter offers. Jesus does his “Jesus thing” again and surprises Peter, “I say to you not seven times but seventy seven times.”
In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus taught that forgiveness was to characterize the believing community. Sisters and brothers must forgive an erring member of the community and do whatever they can to reach out in forgiveness and welcome them back into the community. Peter seems to have learned about the importance of forgiveness, but he probably never expected how much Jesus would ask of him and the believing community. They are to forgive their brothers and sisters and so be a sign of forgiveness to the world. How amazed observers would be when they saw, or heard of, the remarkable and persistent way disciples forgave one another. Such forgiveness can only happen because God, who has forgiven us over and over again, is in our midst empowering what we humans could never accomplish on our own – forgiving one another over and over again.
Did you also notice, it isn’t just a matter of gritting our teeth and making ourselves forgive? Jesus’ closing statement asked that we forgive one another, “from your heart.” We know how difficult that is. It’s not merely a grudging, “I forgive you.” The words must come from a forgiving heart – a changed heart – which requires begging for grace to help us do what we cannot do on our own, change our hearts toward another – from grievance and reluctance, to love and over abundant generosity.
We have to go back to the first part of the parable where the king forgives the huge debt of the steward who cannot repay. Parables are often elaborate stories that can’t help but grab our attention. The amount the debtor owes his master is huge and boggles the imagination. It would be an amount larger than the GDP of a country. He could never repay it, not even by the sale of the debtor, his wife and his children. His request is made out of desperation, “Be patient with me and I will repay you in full.” No he couldn’t. That is the point Jesus is making. We can’t “repay” God and earn our forgiveness. It comes as a gift.
The parable doesn’t end there. The forgiveness of such a vast debt should have touched the steward’s heart and made him different, a renewed person. But it did not. It should have been the energy and power in his heart they would have enabled him to also be forgiving. But his heart remained hard and the proof of this is that he did not give to a fellow servant, who owed him “a much smaller amount,” what he himself had received gratis from his master – the gift of forgiveness. Jesus could have added, right after the king’s forgiveness of the servant, “You go and do likewise.”
Forgiveness happens over and over for us from God. We began this Eucharist again asking for forgiveness and we received it. This is just an example of the frequency of God’s forgiveness to us and is a testimony to God’s infinite mercy. In response we individuals and the church must be witnesses to the mercy God offers all human beings. How do we do this? We believers bestow forgiveness as freely as we have received it. Surely that would be a sign that the God of mercy is present and active in our midst.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. Each time we gather for Eucharist we pray the Lord’s Prayer, not because we are models of forgiveness, but as a prayer that asks the grace from God to forgive as we have been forgiven. Right after we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask Jesus to speak a healing word to us: (“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”) Then we offer one another peace or during the pandemic we pray silently for peace. And then – to emphasize what we are receiving, we pray three times, “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” And God does just that, again and again, bestows mercy just by our asking for it. Then we come forward to receive the living Christ, and the gift of his Spirit which enables us to mirror our merciful God by forgiving others as we have been forgiven.”
We have all been hurt in some way or other in the journey of life –hurt by a bully in school, not invited to the wedding, didn’t get the job I thought I should have got, or at a more serious level, betrayed by someone you trusted, abused physically or sexually and so on. I thought about my school days, I remembered a time when I was in Grade 6 at assembly in the school hall. A boy sitting behind would spend the time kicking my chair. I remember feeling irritated – which turned to anger and then frustration as I was unable to stop it. What is even more fascinating for me is that I actually remember such a trivial and insignificant event which happened about 50 years ago. I can even tell you the boy’s name – Frederick but I won’t say his surname. But what is in us as humans that affects us so much when we are hurt.
Sheila Cassidy is a British doctor who was working in Chile in the 1970’s. In 1975, Cassidy was caught up in the violence of the Pinochet regime. She gave medical care to a political opponent of the new regime. As a result, she was herself arrested by the Chilean secret police, and kept in custody without trial. She was severely tortured by the secret police to force her to disclose information about her patient and her other contacts. She was eventually released from custody and returned to the UK. Later, she was able to say this:- ‘I would never say to someone ‘you must forgive’. I would not dare. Who am I to tell a woman whose father abused her or a mother whose daughter has been raped that she must forgive? I can only say: ‘However much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us. We must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving that we are healed’. That is similar to what Nelson Mandela would continually remind his fellow prisoners on Robben Island: unless they let go of their hurts they would remain in the grip of their abusers.
By failing to forgive, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else.
The parable Jesus shares with us today shows us that the deepest motivation for forgiveness is loving gratitude. If someone has forgiven me out of love, then my authentic reaction will be deep appreciation. I will want spontaneously to pass the gift on. It follows that if God has forgiven me, I will want to give to anyone else the same liberation I have received.
By doing so we can halt the vicious cycle of revenge and pass along love instead of hate.
As we dwell in Christ’s presence this Sunday, let us sense his forgiving love, signified so deeply in the Eucharist. Let us allow our gratitude to flow to others.
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.”
Reflecting on the gift of forgiveness God has given us, might enable us to forgive the debts we hold against others. Being changed by the forgiveness God always makes available to us, can enable us to forgive, the way God does, free of charge.
So we ask ourselves:
- What experience have I had of getting something for free that I needed, didn’t earn, or deserve?
- Was I changed and deeply affected by that experience?
- Was I moved in a similar way to be as generous to another?
Prayer of the Faithful
Leader: We ask God our Father to grant us to share in his work of mercy, the mercy which makes sense of all that we endure in our lives on earth.
We pray for Pope Francis (pause)
that he may be a sign of the power of mercy; that in a ministry of mercy he may show the world that God is with us.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for all who have experienced violence, terrorism, or war: (pause) that God will help them break the cycle of violence and make life-giving choices in the midst of their pain.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for all the Church: (pause)
that we may be inventive in finding ways to restore broken friendships and families torn apart by anger.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for all those who seek forgiveness but cannot find strength in themselves to accept mercy: (pause)
may there be a moment in their life where they suddenly find their way to let go of old wrongs and be reconciled to God.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for all who need healing, particularly those with Covid-19: (pause)
that God’s healing Spirit will ease their suffering, restore them to health, and guide all who are caring for them.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time, especially for Jean Pickering, James Sikhakhane and Stanislaw Gostkowski.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for Colin Botha who died during the week.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord.
All: And let perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Leader: Let us pray our PRAYER for the care of creation
Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them,
you created us in your own image and made us stewards of creation.
You blessed us with the sun, water and bountiful land
so that all might be nourished.
Open our minds and touch our hearts,
so that we may attend to your gift of creation
Help us to be conscious that our common home
belongs not only to us, but to all of your creatures
and to all future generations,
and that it is our responsibility to preserve it.
May we help each person secure the food and resources that they need.
Be present to those in need in these trying times,
especially the poorest and those most at risk of being left behind.
Transform our fear and feelings of isolation into hope and fraternity
so that we may experience a true conversion of the heart.
Help us to show creative solidarity
in addressing the consequences of this global pandemic.
Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed
in search of the common good.
Now more than ever may we feel
that we are all interconnected and interdependent.
Enable us to listen and respond
to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
May the present sufferings be the birth pangs
of a more fraternal and sustainable world.
Under the loving gaze of Mary Help of Christians,
we make this prayer through Christ Our Lord.
We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.
I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment,
feed my soul at least spiritually.
I unite myself to you now as I do when I actually receive you.
Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:
All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Leader: O God most high,
you are slow to anger and rich in compassion.
Keep alive in us the memory of your mercy,
that our angers may be calmed
and our resentments dispelled.
May we discover the forgiveness
promised to those who forgive
and become a people rich in mercy.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:
Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.