Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 13: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Wrath and anger

Sir 27:30 — 28:7; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Wait a minute, has the author of Sirach, our first reading today, been watching the evening news? “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight,” writes Ben Sira, a Jewish sage who lived 200 years before Christ.

In our own tense times, we watch peaceful protests turn into violent conflicts; road rage litters our highways; and confined to home more than we want, some of us discover how fast we become angry, even at people we love.

The readings for this Sunday pointedly remind us of the deepest values of our Christian way of life. There can be “righteous anger,” that is, anger triggered by witnessing innocent people suffering, such as a child starving, families displaced or exploitation of the vulnerable by people in powerful positions, in society and, sadly, in the church as well.

The Scriptures note that even God experiences this kind of just anger. But Sirach puts the spotlight on a different, corrosive and vengeful anger that wounds our neighbor. Anger that lacks a sense of mercy and compassion. “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” Sirach asks. “Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, and then seek pardon for his own sins?” “Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults,” the sage concludes.

The response Psalm 103 picks up the same refrain: “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” This beautiful psalm speaks of God’s tender mercy. “Bless the Lord, O my soul and all my being, bless his holy name … God pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. God redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.”

“Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

Obviously, these readings were chosen to amplify the powerful message of today’s Gospel, Matthew’s parable of the merciless servant. This remarkable teaching of Jesus caps what is called the “community discourse,” a series of sayings and parables that reflect Jesus’ teaching on how we Christians are to treat each other. 

The parable is triggered by Peter’s reasonable question: What are the limits of forgiveness toward someone who injures me? Peter’s own suggestion is, in fact, generous, “As many as seven times?” Seven is a symbolic number in the Bible and means infinity. Jesus’ response puts aside all limits: “Not seven times but 77 times.”

The parable that follows illustrates what Jesus means. A man owes his king a staggering debt (literally “10,000 talents,” an amount equal to the total amount of taxes King Herod raised in a year). When the king confronts the servant and threatens dire punishment, he pleads for “more time” (It would take a while, for sure). But instead of a payment plan, the king, out of mercy, forgives the entire debt.

Then that servant goes out and meets a fellow servant who owes him a much smaller amount, literally “a hundred denarii.” A denarius was the typical wage for one day’s labor. This servant, too, pleas for mercy but the servant, who had just been forgiven an enormous debt, instead deals viciously with his fellow servant, throwing him into prison until he could pay.

The other servants in household are saddened by this and report to the king. Angered, the king summons the merciless servant: “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”

The parable illustrates the petition of the Lord’s Prayer we say so often: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” The Christian antidote for toxic anger and a lack of mercy and compassion is to remember that God has first loved us and forgiven us everything.


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