24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sirach 27:30 - 28:7 Romans 14:7-9 Gospel 18:21-35
The first reading today cautions the reader against holding grudges in one’s heart. It speaks of wrath and vengeance, two very strong words.
I’ve learned to respect what I hold in my heart. If I focus on anger or revenge for an offense, real or imagined, then the toxic byproduct of those feelings fester in me, not the other person. I suffer. My heart and soul are precious, and what I focus on grows. I’ve learned through trial and error to protect the contents of my heart. I am cautious about the feelings and situations I “hug tightly” and try to keep my heart clean as I would my home or some other valued possession.
Bitterness poisons our inner surroundings as dirt and grime do our outer environment. The Ajax of the heart is mercy and forgiveness: forgiving, letting go, giving the benefit of the doubt, and offering second chances when needed. But, as dirt and grime can get away from us, keeping our hearts free of emotional toxins is difficult sometimes. I like feeling sorry for myself occasionally, holding tight to my grievances. I suppose a little self-pity can’t hurt, but wallowing in any negative emotion harms our overall serenity and spiritual condition. Author Emmet Fox in his book, “Around the Year,” tells of an anecdote that speaks to this issue. It’s called Bear Hugs Kettle.
Today’s second reading reminds us that the Lord reigns over the living and the dead. There is no escaping his sovereignty. However, we do get to choose how we come to him, while in earthly form and after. The condition of our heart depends solely on our intention and effort since God knows we cannot come perfectly to him, since perfection eludes us by nature. So, in his mercy, he accepts our intention when backed up by our best efforts.
Matthew’s Gospel today is quite well known. The seventy times seven lesson Jesus teaches his disciples is exaggerated in number for emphasis. Although the exact numbers aren’t significant, the message is clear: we must forgive as many times as is necessary. Although Jesus speaks firmly, there is always love behind his words. My younger self believed that to obey was to lose. Luckily, over the years, I’ve had a shift in perception, and I now know obedience to his will is always in my best interest.
Today’s readings emphasize the importance of forgiveness. We need to forgive as we need to be forgiven. Our society today is in spiritual turmoil, starving for a collective change of heart. We can work toward that change in our everyday lives by consciously choosing forgiveness. Author Dianna Hardy said, “It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.” Let us be that avalanche.
Peggy Roach, Associate