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Select Exegesis
September, 17 2017

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Sr. Betty Jane Lillie, S.C.

130: Sir 27:30-28:9 Ps 103:1-4,9-12 Rom 14:7-9 Mt 18:21-35


           How many times Lord?  Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive?  Seven times?  The answer can be rendered in at least two different ways.  Either seventy times seven or seventy-seven times.  In each case it means a large number of times. 

            The answer comes in the form of a parable, so we can wonder what the ambience of the question was.  Some think the situation that gave rise to the question was the defection of some members at the times of persecutions in the early church.  After the trials passed the defectors would return to seek reinstatement in the community, and then leaders would wonder how often they had to accept them back.  What kind of limits were to be put on God’s mercy?  Or if that wasn’t the right question, what kind of discipline ought to be imposed on human weakness? 

            In the Gospel parable the king released his servant from a very large debt.  One talent was equivalent to fifteen years’ wages for a laborer, so ten thousand talents was an overwhelming amount.  Subsequently, the servant denied debt-relief to a fellow servant for a much smaller amount.  A denarius was ordinarily a day’s wage for a worker.  So even a hundred denarii was in exaggerated contrast to ten thousand talents.  It was no wonder that fellow servant were horrified at the stringent punishment of imprisonment for the hundred denarii.  Even the king expected clemency among his servants on the same model as his own. 

            Paul raised the standard even higher when he taught that whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s.  We do not live in community to ourselves.  We live or die to Christ who died for us and lives again so as to bring all of us in himself to the kingdom.  Christ is Lord of all. 

            It appears from salvation history that anger and vengeance were of long standing in the human condition.  In the first family Adam blamed God on the one hand, and his wife on the other, for his own fault.  Later his son Cain killed his own brother Abel.  And the story goes on.  The Sage, Ben Sirah, reflected on the strife in the family of humankind and called upon all people to be merciful.  Somehow anger and wrath may take a greater toll on the one who is angry than on the one who is the object of it.  Such instances fragment the human community by disrupting friendships and sowing discord instead of engendering peace. 

            The Sage calls people back to the commandments and to the practice of the covenant of the Most High.  It is in showing mercy toward others that one can hope for his own healing from the Lord. 

            With the Psalmist we can bless the Lord for his merciful forgiveness for all of us.  The Lord forgives us, heals us, and crowns us with steadfast love and mercy.  (Ps 103)

 ©Betty Jane Lillie, S.C.


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