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Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

September 6, 2020

Matthew 18: 15-20

By Rev. John Tran

Forgiveness. Allowing another to be forgiven. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Allowing love to triumph, not resentment. These are all points that call to us from today's readings. Even in dark times, love must triumph. During World War II, many Dutch people did not like how the Nazis were treating the Jews, and so tried to frustrate the German efforts. When the Jews were required arm bands with a star, many Christian Dutch people wore them too. As a result many were put in concentration camps along side the Jews.

This reminds me of a Dutch woman who was a young adult when the Germans took over Holland and began to round up the Jews.   Her name was Corrie.  She and her sister began to hide Jews in their home until they found a way to escape. One day they were caught and sent to a concentration camp; there they ministered as Christ to all they met, Jew or Christian alike. After much abuse, the sister died.  Corrie lived to see freedom at the end of the war.  Some years later, Corrie went to a reunion of the inmates of her camp.  A despised prison guard also came.  He was there to ask forgiveness of all he had harmed. Corrie was filled with revulsion on seeing him and could not even talk with him. All she could do was pray, “Lord, you will have to forgive him for me, and open my heart forgive.” After many months, Corrie was able to forgive him and talk with him. When she shook his hand, it was like the Holy Spirit entered them both. In that act, both of them were healed.

Today's gospel calls each of us to forgive the person who wrongs us. It is easier to say, “I will never talk to that person again!” It may be easier, but it is not the way of Jesus Christ. It is not easy to forgive, especially if we have been hurt by another we trusted. We are called to go beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort zone. Jesus is strong in telling us that we are never to tolerate a break in relationship; we are to spare no effort in healing the break.

For Jesus, the person who has been injured needs to take the first step in the healing. If we feel wronged, we need to tell the offender; we cannot just wallow in self pity and judge the other. This just hardens our hearts which today's psalm warns us against. We need to meet one to one. It just be could be that we misinterpreted the words or actions of another. The wrong needs to be aired out and understood. If the personal meeting fails to bring understanding and forgiveness, then bring in a few members of the community to help each party come to an understanding of the facts to help us to see. If this too fails, the perhaps a meeting of the church can bring healing to a relationship; after all, when two or three are gathered, Jesus says, “I am there in their midst.” Why do we go through all this? St. Paul urges us to reach out to one another because we owe it to one another to love each other. This love is not easy and makes us go out of ourselves, to live outwardly. Real love does not carry a grudge. Real love makes each of us responsible for healing and each other's good.

The most puzzling part comes if even the efforts of the church fails. In that case, we are to treat the person as if he or she is a tax collector or a sinner. This seems a startling statement. It seems so cold, as if we are to ignore the person and quit dealing with him or her. But this is not what Jesus means. What did Jesus do regarding a tax collector or sinner? Jesus embraces that person and never shuts the door to them for repentance. After all, Jesus made tax collectors like Zacchaeus one of his best friends; he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He even made them examples of good in his parable when he compared the tax collector and the Pharisee. He chose a tax collector, Matthew as an apostle.

Jesus is telling us never to give up on anyone. No person is hopeless. If there was ever a time never to forgive, it was for Corrie to turn her back on the concentration camp guard who had been responsible for the suffering and death of many. But it was for him that Jesus suffered and died. It was for him that Jesus rose from death, to free each of us from sin and death, from living only for ourselves. We must never allow our hearts to be hardened or grow cold. Jesus, our life, calls more from us. Difficult as it is, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our lack of forgiveness could be the cause of despair in someone. That God saved Corrie from doing, just as he saves us from living only for ourselves. In this way, our hearts need not be troubled because we live in Jesus.

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