Reflection on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading starts off with some very good news from my perspective. It states that “wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.”
I do not think of most people I know as full of wrath and anger, but I must admit I do think of some politicians in those terms, and I would enjoy seeing them suffer God’s vengeance. Perhaps not my best self, but a part of me would like that.
But after that opening, the first reading starts to make demands on all of us. Most of us know by now that forgiveness heals the wounded as well as those who are being forgiven. It is difficult and draining to carry anger and wrath and give it the time and energy it demands. We open our hearts and ourselves when we forgive, and we create space for compassion and wisdom to flow into us. I know for myself that, at the age of 15, after one year of harboring angry feelings toward the drunk driver who killed my father and the God, who in my mind “let it happen,” I knew it was time to let go of that and move on, forgive those I blamed and create a life focused on my future, my family and friends and all the good that life offered. That was a significant learning for me. Letting go is reclaiming a form of freedom for ourselves, a freedom to love. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus when we forgive and open ourselves up to more compassion and wisdom.
Then this first reading goes on to remind us that our time here on earth is limited, and we must choose how we will spend it — not on wrath and anger, but on learning to be more loving, more present and more compassionate.
We have seen how anger can change a person when a vigilante or prison guard becomes jaded by all that they have experienced, and those they encounter are treated harshly and inappropriately. We have also seen how capable we are of taking something out on someone who is not to blame if we are not mindful of the feelings we carry with us into each encounter. Often, we don’t have contact with the person responsible for some offense or hurt, but only a representative. I try not to overreact with airline personnel at airports when flights are delayed or canceled. But I have seen them take some pretty harsh treatment after a delay or cancellation.
It is providential that these readings happen on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday that calls for self-reflection and for people to right the wrongs of the past year and make things right. It is a time of asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness.
The first reading and the Gospel are serious reminders of the Golden Rule to “do unto others as we would like others to do unto us.” We know that we want to live by that rule and the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, and when we do that, we spread God’s love and compassion, the very same love and compassion that we have experienced throughout our lives. It is our call to pass it on.
But this loving response to others from a place of compassion does not mean that there are no consequences here for those who have committed serious crimes and done grave harm. There are laws and judicial bodies to handle such things. And we are called to work for justice; to work for the kind of justice that offers second chances, rehabilitation, and restorative solutions. That is where compassion and justice meet. We don’t turn a blind eye to serious sins and crimes, nor do we turn a vengeful eye to the perpetrators. Vengeance is self-centered and offers some fleeting sense of payback, whereas justice focuses on right relationships and the repair of wrongs for all those involved.
We all have need of forgiveness at one or more points in our life, and that experience offers us the opportunity to see the need for us to forgive others. We are neither perfect nor fatally flawed. God can help us turn our lives toward good at any moment that we are receptive to it. And we can help others turn toward good at any moment by our compassion and forgiveness.
I read this quote that seemed to truly speak to me: “The truth is, everything we could possibly need for joy, ease, wisdom and compassion is right here now, in the ordinary messiness of our lives. At some point, we finally realize this and learn to let go of the struggles and the wishes for some other life, and, with a sense of wonder and courage, trust — fall into our actual lives with a deep sense of radical acceptance.”