Peter G. Gori, O.S.A.
Church of Saint Augustine
Sir 27: 30--28:7
Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Rom 14: 7-9
Mt 18: 21-35
Who hasn’t become acutely aware lately how angry, aggressive and abusive our interactions have become? This is not a sudden occurrence, as some would have it, that began only with the most recent presidential election cycle. It has been moving in this ugly direction for quite some time. Who doesn’t get angry sometimes? Who doesn’t occasionally “lose it” whether while driving, blogging, in a meeting? It is the astonishing frequency of it now that is alarming. It can feel as though everyone is yelling at everyone else, even in print! Social scientists, who observe these things have yet to calculate all the contributing factors. They are even further away from any kind of “cure.” That is because it is an affliction essentially of a spiritual dimension, admittedly with very unpleasant social manifestations. Sirach tells us in the first reading that “wrath and anger are hateful things.” That is the truth.
Jesus responds to this very situation as we hear him answer Peter’s question, which, as always, is our question too. Peter asks, “Lord, if my brother (or sister) sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” (The number seven in the biblical is considered the “perfect number” indicative of completeness so Peter must have thought he was going to ace this quiz. He didn’t!) Jesus raises the quota considerably to 77, implying “as many as it takes.” In teaching Peter and us this perspective, Jesus reveals to us yet again what God is like and how we can and should strive to be. We pray in the Responsorial Psalm for today, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion.” That’s it! If each and every one of us, from the high and mighty to the low and meek, tried to be more kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion, we could turn this culture around. That is the cure we need. Now we need to want it! Jesus’s way is not to set a limit on my willingness to love, to forgive, to be kind and to be merciful. It must be taken a step further by teaching our children this way. We do that by our own example first and foremost.
The other side of this approach is that I must be willing seek the forgiveness and mercy of others whom I may have offended or hurt. That takes far more strength of character. Anyone can duck, dodge, rationalize and deny. Only the genuinely strong person has the humility to confess the truth about his or her behavior.
As our Saint Augustine comments on this, “And so it is that if we desire to receive pardon, we must be ready to pardon all wrongs committed against us. After all, if we take a look at our own sins, and try counting what we commit by deed, with our eyes, with our ears, in our thoughts, by innumerable impulses, I don’t know whether we wouldn’t go to bed with a cool million in our account.”
Don’t wait for the social scientists to figure this out for you. Jesus has already shown us the way.