24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 (R. 1: Sirach 27: 30-28:7; Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; R. 2: Romans 14: 7-9; Gospel: Matthew 18: 21-35)
– REV FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
DO YOU REMEMBER?
In some parts of the world, hunters use a simple but effective trick to trap monkeys. First, they drill a hole into the ground or into some heavy hollow object. The hole is large enough for the monkey’s hand to pass through. They then throw a nut or some fruit inside the hole. The monkey easily sticks its hand into the hole to get the nut or fruit, but after picking the nut or fruit, the monkey’s fist becomes too big to come out of the hole, and the monkey would not like to let go of the nut or fruit and be free. The hunters would then throw their nets and catch the monkey. The easiest thing the monkey needs to do to gain its freedom is to let go of the nut or fruit, but the monkey is so attached to the little fruit that it misses the greater possibilities that life has ahead.
As human beings, it is easy to see how foolish it is for the monkey to lose its freedom and even life because of something so little. But are we not also attached to various things that do not serve us well? Are we not also blindly running into various traps including those that we create ourselves?
God created us to be happy in this life and in the life to come. To find this happiness, we must identify what trap is holding us back. Today’s readings identify anger and the refusal to forgive as examples of such traps. The first reading begins by saying, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight,” just like the monkey holds tight to the trap. The first reading explains further that when we are angry, when we are vengeful and refuse to forgive, we lose many things, we block the road that brings answers to our prayers, and we deny ourselves of the forgiveness of our own sins by God.
The Gospel passage continues with the same message of the need to let go of anger and to forgive. But Peter is aware of some people who keep offending us after we forgive them. Peter wants to be right with God, but, he does not want people to take him for granted, so he wants to know how many times he must forgive before he can revenge. He is not patient enough to get an answer, he suggests, “Seven times?” Very generous of him! At that time, many rabbis set the number three as the limit. But Peter doubles it and adds one.
Jesus gives an answer to Peter that implies that there should be no limit to forgiveness. He then tells a story that shows that if only we remember how much God forgives us, we will easily forgive others. The first servant in the story owed the King a huge amount of money. He could not pay back, he and his family were to be sold, but he begged and the King forgave him. On his way back home, he met a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. The fellow servant could not pay him back, and so he began to choke him and then imprisoned him until he paid him back. The first servant quickly forgot how much the King forgave him.
Yes, if only we remember our moments of divine grace, we will have no room for disgrace. The problem is not that we do not remember, it is just that we choose to remember what traps us like the monkey. This past Friday was 9/11, a day that brings memories of tragedy and loss. But beyond that, it also brings memories of when an American woke up the next morning, looked at the other person and saw neither a female nor or a male, but a human being; a day an American looked at the other person, and saw neither black nor white, but a fellow human being. A time when people of this great nation were neither democrats nor republicans, but simply Americans. A moment we thought of expanding the sizes of places of worship because we suddenly realized the passing nature of this world and the centrality of the Supernatural and Ultimate Being, who most of us call, God.
Unfortunately, our memories are selectively short; we seem to remember the tragedy but we forget the grace that came from it; we have quickly forgotten the lessons we learned 19 years ago, we are becoming more divided now than ever; angrier than ever and we have set God aside. In the face of a global pandemic, we easily justify why places of worship must be shut down, but we cannot understand why bars, casinos, amusement parks, and beauty shops are shut down. How easily we remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember! United we stand, divided we fall. Do we need another tragedy to become wiser? May God forgive us our sins, grant eternal rest to those who died on 9/11, heal the wounded, comfort the bereaved, and unite us again as one great nation under God, through Christ our Lord. Amen.