The readings for this Sunday, Sept. 17, make God’s expectations of forgiveness crystal clear. The expectation is that, since God forgives us, we have to find a way to forgive one another.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
The readings for this Sunday, Sept. 17, are a great piggyback from last week, and very timely in our remembrance of the events of 9/11 just a few days ago. When we choose to hold on to our anger, when we refuse to forgive, we pretend that we’re God — because only God is perfect and has a right to hold anything against anyone — and God chooses not to. If we’re going to live as God’s image on earth, we have to reflect the forgiving love that God offers every single person on earth.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
“Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
Last week, God gave us a road map for addressing the sins that are committed against us — meet them head-on and deal with them in the open. This week, God takes us a little deeper. Because, in the Gospel last week, Jesus said, “if” the other is willing to work things out, all is well — but they may not. So, what then? What do we do when the other person continues to hurt us, or if we can’t work things out? We learn to not hold onto it in our hearts. Now, that doesn’t mean that we allow them to continue their bad behavior — but it means that we have to be careful to not let it take over our thoughts and hearts. The first reading says that sinners are the ones who hold tight to their anger — and think about it — in the stories that we read and watch in the movies, who’s the one who’s always angry; who can’t forgive? The bad guy! The hero always tries to forgive. That doesn’t mean that the hero lets the villain get away. He brings him to justice, but the hero doesn’t dwell on how the bad guy hurt him. He makes things as right as he can, and moves on.
The second reading reminds us of how we were forgiven — by Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead. If that’s how far God would go for me, then I should go as far as I can to forgive others. Jesus uses a story in the Gospel to explain it to Peter and the other disciples. His story goes that there was a man who owed a huge debt to a very rich man. He couldn’t pay it back, so the rich man forgave the debt. Later on, the poor man found someone who owed him much less money, and beat him up and yelled at him to pay him back. When the rich man found out, he threw that unforgiving man in jail. We’re meant to understand that the rich man represents God, and we are the poor man. Our debt — the sins that we commit that we could never undo on our own — was paid in full by Jesus’ death. We can NEVER repay that back. So, God wants us to pay it forward to people who sin against us. If we hold their sins against them, when God doesn’t hold ours against us, we give up the forgiveness that God would give to us.
Can you think of a story that you like where a bad guy refuses to forgive, but a hero chooses to be forgiving? Why was forgiving the right decision?
God’s love is unconditional — we can never lose it no matter what we do. But, God through the Jewish Scriptures and through Jesus, makes it clear that God’s forgiveness is conditional — it rests on our ability to forgive others. Jesus even follows the Our Father up with a clause about how we’ll only be forgiven if we forgive. Why do you think God puts so much emphasis on our ability to forgive? Why is it important? What happens to our hearts when we hold on to anger? What happens to our hearts when we let things go? What is the difference between seeking justice (which is really, really important), and seeking vengeance?
Jesus makes a point to say that, when we forgive, we must forgive, “from your heart.” While the process of forgiveness begins with an act of the will; a choice to let the thing go, it can’t be a purely intellectual activity. God wants our heart involved. How do you move from the choice to forgive to the letting go and the healing that takes place in your heart when you truly forgive? How do you know when you have effectively forgiven someone?
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”