September 17, 2023
by David Crawford
Creighton University - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 130

Sirach 27:30—28:7
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

Praying Ordinary Time

An Invitation to Make the Online Retreat

Praying in Times of Crisis

If you’ve already read today’s Scriptures, you know that our theme is Forgiveness. Forgiveness is mentioned a lot in the Bible, frequently in important sections like the Lord’s Prayer, regularly as something we are commanded to do, many times with a reminder about God’s forgiveness. Given how often this theme appears, you won’t be surprised to read that I have written reflections on this more than once (including one on this same Gospel reading) over the years.

One of the wonderful things I love about God’s Word is how it can speak to us anew each time we read it, but before I get to the “new” thoughts, there are a couple of points that remain constant in my reflections about forgiveness. The first is that forgiving and loving are inextricably linked. In today’s Alleluia verse, Jesus commands: “love one another as I have loved you.” The Apostle Paul tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5), which is another way of saying that loving includes forgiving. The second point is that God wants good for each of us, which is why He gives us the ability (and duty) to forgive. The obedient act of forgiving is a blessing that frees us from pain, bitterness, anger and much more, while at the same time it fosters healthier, positive relationships for us to enjoy.

Peter does not ask if he should forgive, so clearly Peter knows he is supposed to forgive, but surely there must be limits! Jesus’s answer, in essence, is that there are no limits so just keep forgiving. One commentator has noted that Jesus is encouraging us “to make it our constant practice to forgive injuries, and [we] should accustom ourselves to it till it becomes habitual.”

This week, as I read about the Q&A between Peter and Jesus, my thoughts about the sin/forgiveness dynamic broadened a bit. Previously I found myself treating the sin/forgiveness dynamic as a 1:1 ratio, but that is not always the case. Forgiveness can be a process that, in certain instances, takes time.

· Sometimes forgiveness may need to be repeated, especially when something causes a painful memory to resurface. Some grudges are hard to let go. Sometimes the scars that remain after the initial healing need some attention, too. Forgiving again will help to soothe the renewed pain.

· Sometimes forgiveness may need to be extended as more consequences of a transgression emerge. These could be major, or they could be trivial, but more forgiveness will help you with the frustration, pain, etc. that results.

· Sometimes forgiveness may need to come in installments as we struggle with big challenges. I may not be able to bring myself to forgive everything all at once. I may need to start small and work my way up; but if I persist, I can chip away until there is nothing left to forgive.

I have one more Sometimes scenario, but to explain it better, I first want to share a brief story. Today, as I write this, I am thinking of a family member getting ready to undergo a difficult medical procedure. This little boy was born with a heart defect, and his parents have known since Day One that he would need a “staged reconstruction” to repair and reconfigure his heart and circulatory system. This involved a series of surgeries – the first, when he was a couple weeks old; the second, a couple years later; and the third, a couple years after that – as well as other scheduled procedures over the first several years of his life. My limited understanding is that the treatments are staged both because the little body can only withstand so much at one time, but also because each step builds on the previous.

It occurs to me that, sometimes, injuries some individuals have suffered are so significant, the hurts they experienced are so deep rooted, the damage and despair they know is so extensive that they are not able to forgive fully without a lot of help and time. They are so fragile that they can only withstand a little bit at a time. They may need to rest and recover before they can take the next step, before they can add to the forgiveness already given. I am confident, though, that the Holy Spirit is ready to do a staged reconstruction that will repair and reconfigure their heart so that they can know the joy of full forgiveness.

Loving God, thank you for forgiving us, and for the blessings of being able to forgive. Help us to forgive, and use us to help others who need the healing that comes from forgiving others.


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