24th Sunday Year A
Sunday 17th September 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Mt 18: 21-35
After hearing Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, Peter came up and asked him: ‘How often should I forgive someone who offends against me…up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not a mere seven times but rather seventy times seven.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like the president of a country who decided it was time to do an audit of the finances of the nation. As the accounts were done, it was found that one banker owed more in taxes than the entire annual income of the country! Since he couldn’t pay, the president decreed that all his assets were to be sold and that even his wife and children were to be liable for his debt. He pleaded, he begged with the president: “Give me time and I will repay everything.” The president had pity on him and released him of all the debt. As he left parliamentary buildings, he came across a tradesman who owed him the equivalent of a few weeks’ wages. He grabbed him and virtually strangling him, demanded: “Pay your debts! Everything! Now!” The tradesman said: “Give me time and I will repay everything.” But he wouldn’t agree. He had the tradesman arrested, tried and put in prison until everything owing him was paid back. The tradesman’s mates were horrified at what had happened and made sure the president heard of it. The banker was then called back before the president who said to him: “You wicked man! I forgave you that enormous debt. Weren’t your then obliged to show mercy to your debtor as I have shown mercy to you?” The president in his fury had him gaoled and all his assets realised towards payment of the debt.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 102: 1-4, 9-12
My soul bless God,
let all within me rejoice in God’s holy name
My soul bless God,
constantly remembering all God’s blessings.
God heals your sins,
heals your ills,
saves your life from ruin,
surrounds you will love and compassion.
God does not constantly nag, or hold on to anger,
Nor deal with us as our sins or depravities deserves.
God wraps in love higher than the heavens,
those who turn in worship.
With mercy wider than the sky,
God wipes away our sins.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, open our eyes to the mercy that surrounds us, open our hearts to the need that surrounds us and open our lives to your love that we may be channels of your compassion to that need. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This week’s Gospel reading continues the theme of forgiveness from last Sunday, with this reading focussing more closely on a personal forgiveness that does not involve intervention by the community. Peter certainly thinks well of himself, offering to forgive seven times, but that simply isn’t good enough. The standard Jesus offers can be read as either 77 or 490 times. What Jesus expects is a forgiveness that has no limits, that is the forgiveness that God offers to us.
The parable, like so many parables, has a fantastic, improbable element. The amount the official runs up in debt to the king is more that the amount of money that would have been in a Middle Eastern kingdom of that day. There is simply no way he would pay. Indulgent as the king has been in allowing him to run up the debt, he is even more so in writing it off. The official simply does not understand what has happened to him. He has no sense of the mercy that has been shown to him. As he goes out of the king’s presence he meets a servant who owes him the equivalent of a few weeks’ wages of an ordinary employee. The servant’s request is virtually identical to the request he had made to the king but in this instance the request is utterly reasonable. Given time the servant could pay off such a debt. But the official is intransigent and, ironically, in putting the servant into prison actually creates a situation in which it is unlikely that payment could be paid. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! The reaction of the other servants is horror at the lack of justice shown to the servant. The king’s horror is that his mercy has not flowed through to the servant.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that we each have experienced an extraordinary mercy from God. Awareness of this will make us merciful towards others. Lack of mercy towards others is _the_ sin that will exempt us from salvation.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Whenever we overreact in a situation our personal alarm bells should go off. And whenever we see another overreacting, we should ask: what is happening? What is really going on inside this person?
The king in the Gospel was foolishly indulgent towards the official in allowing him to run up such a debt. Forgiving the debt was even more indulgent yet the official still does not understand that this happened because of the king’s mercy. He continued to indulge his overweening sense of self entitlement. The amount owed to him by the servant (the ‘tradesman’) was less than .1% (yes, there is a point in front of that 1) and it would have gone nowhere towards the debt he had owed the king. Yet he lashes out in irrational, violent anger at the servant who owed him such a paltry amount. The other servants are rightly horrified, as is the king, whose indulgence comes to an abrupt end. One can image the official in gaol, years later, still not understanding it, believing himself to have been wronged.
His overreaction should have been a stimulus to us when we overreact to pause and ask: ‘Why am I acting like this?’ This is the way conscience works – it produces uncomfortable, sticky emotions in us that disturb our life. Rather than lash out, we are meant to use that energy to go inside ourselves and ask serious questions about our behaviour and the values by which we direct our lives. Imagine if that official had used that strong, even violent energy to confront his sense of self-entitlement – he would have had to face his own improper behaviour and recognise the mercy shown to him. In doing that, he would then have allowed mercy to flow through him to the servant.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Constantly, we are told in the Scriptures that God is merciful towards us and that we, in turn, should be merciful towards others. Given its centrality in our faith, it is important that we understand what mercy is. The Hebrew word for mercy – _ruah_ – is based on the word for womb. It is not just a sense of common feeling with another or even of compassion. Rather is a deep relationship with a person, akin to the experience a mother has with her child, especially one in the womb. When we feel mercy towards another it is as though that person is carried under our heart, flesh of our flesh. We feel mercy like this towards others because God has been merciful to us.
Lack of mercy in our lives doesn’t come about because we have closed our hearts to other people but rather because we don’t recognise and appreciate the mercy shown to us by God. Maybe some reading this have not committed serious sin and do not have the experience of being forgiven by God in that situation. That does not mean they have not experienced God’s mercy. In mercy, we have been created. Made in God’s image and likeness to be children of God, we are carried under God’s heart. God took on our human flesh in the person of Jesus that we may see how close and loving God wants to be to us. Simply by meditating on the wonder of our being we can realise the mercy in which we are immersed. This realisation lets the floodgates open in our hearts and lives and allowing mercy to flow to others. It is not a feeling we ‘work up’ in our selves, judging the rights and wrongs in the situation, but rather a grace we allow to flow through us. As we allow it to flow, we become ‘like God’ giving salvation and hope to our broken world.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– This painting is in the style of Rembrandt shows the king confronting his official.
– This painting from the Jesus Mafa source is an African representation of this Gospel.
– The unmerciful servant is a drawing by Heinz Tschanz-Hofmann
– Ian Pollock’s painting shows the gross distortion that Official’s lack of mercy produced.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, meditate on how God’s mercy surrounds you at all time. As stated in the commentary, the Hebrew word for ‘mercy’ is based on the word for womb.
– Mull on how you are carried in the heart of God.
– Mull on how you can show that love and compassion to others in simple practical ways.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus makes clear our call to be merciful but bases this on our experience of God’s mercy to us.
Rest in the love of your God.
When you are at rest, consider the times and ways that God has been merciful to you. Slowly reflect on practical personal moments when you have known God’s mercy as well as more general experiences, like being alive and the beauty of creation, etc. Dive deep into that mercy and let it surround you.
Now consider a relationship where you know you are withholding love from a person, not being merciful. Held in God’s mercy, ask God what you can do that is best for that person. Imagine different ways that you can do this. If you baulk, ask God to be merciful to you and give you strength and wisdom.
Rest in the love of your God.