Gospel Reflection For Sunday 17th September 2023 24th Sunday Ordinary Time – by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 17th 2023 | 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In his adventure/survivor novel, ‘Lord of the Flies’, William Golding introduces us to a group of teenage boys (in fact, a school choir) stranded on a desert island when their plane crashes. They quickly discover that they are the only survivors and that no adults remains alive to lead them.
The island they are on is a paradise of sun, sand, sea and tropical fruits of every kind. Initially, without adult supervision, they simply enjoy their freedom, swimming, laughing, eating and playing in the sand. However, things quickly begin to change and gradually the island descends into a place of violence, cruelty and, in the end, a place of murder and savagery.
As a veteran of World War II, Golding saw at first hand the horrors of war and he was for the rest of his life appalled and sickened by what human beings can do to one another. At the very end of the novel one of the central characters weeps “for the end of innocence, and the darkness of man’s heart.” Golding’s question, which is at the heart of the novel is this: Is man’s heart a place of darkness and evil and if so, is it simply innocence to imagine that true goodness and love are even possible?
What in effect Golding is doing is showing us a world where ‘virtue’ is only skin deep; where what we call ‘civilisation’ is no more than a thin veneer of goodness which hides our true nature. Golding is asserting that all human beings are, at heart, savages, fuelled by jealousy, anger, cruelty and revenge. On his island, the boys, free from adult supervision, quickly lose the ‘rules of civilisation’ and their true selves of cruelty, jealousy and hatred are free to emerge and flourish.
It is easy to dismiss this idea as impossible, negative and depressing and indeed it is all of these things. However, very few of us, I think, have not watched news bulletins or read social media posts without throwing our arms up and wondering about the type of world we live in. Look at it…. Famine and disease killing countless millions of innocent children simply because of the power-bids of a few army Generals; Terror and brutal executions perpetrated by those who claim they speak in the name of their God; Prejudice, intolerance and violence visible nightly on our streets aimed at those who are in any way ‘different’ to us; ……and on it goes.
For Golding, who experienced at first hand the ‘Hell’ of World War II it was very immediate and stark, as it was for the one hundred thousand American GI’s who died in Vietnam in the 60’s, and as it is for those who presently suffer and die to keep Ukraine a free and sovereign country. But every one of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have, with the central character of Golding’s novel, “wept for the end of innocence and for the darkness of man’s heart.”
The unavoidable question is this: Is there anything other than darkness in ‘man’s heart’?
Scrape away the skin, the surface, of each human person and what do we find? A good, virtuous person, who is capable of sinning, or an evil, sinful person who pretends to be good? We will, I think, want to answer, “good and virtuous” but in our thoughts and our casual conversations with others do we tend to convey the other view; that we and our world are evil and sinful.
The thing is that this view is utterly opposed to the message of Christianity. For a Christian there is but one understanding of ourselves and our world: We are created in the image of God, who is Love, and Jesus, God-made-human, came to us and took on all the hatred and evil the world could throw at him, and by his Resurrection from the dead he showed, once and for all, that love will outlast hatred, and peace will have victory over violence.
This is the message of the Gospel, and despite all that tempts us to be afraid and pessimistic, it is the message that we must proclaim with boldness and confidence.
Some people just love to portray the Old Testament as presenting an image of God that is angry, punishing and even cruel. But just look at what the Book of Lamentations says (3:17…), “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is…… but this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; the steadfast love of God never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
More recently Pope Francis said: “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive us as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.” (EG 6)
As Christians we read the Gospels, not as a set of moral ideals or abstract principles for living, but as a life actually lived, a death which actually happened and a resurrection which was actually witnessed and experienced by his followers, and which is capable of being actually experienced by us, because the Risen Jesus still lives among us. (“I am with you always…”)
It is also in this context that we, as Christians, understand ‘forgiveness’; not as something abstract and academic, to be studied and theorised about, but as something which was actually lived by Jesus and then given to us. It is not something to be desired and sought after, but something that is possible for each one of us. Therefore, we are challenged, commanded, to forgive others from the heart..
This is precisely the message of today’s Gospel.
The parable of the King and his two servants is hugely exaggerated and caricatured to make it clear. The ‘wicked’ servant is so obviously wicked in every way. He owed “ten thousand talents” – an astronomical amount, in today’s money about three billion dollars!!!
The King wrote off this entire amount when the servant pleaded with him.
The other servant owed “one hundred denarii” – about six thousand dollars today – a drop in the ocean compared to three billion!!
Yet the man who was forgiven so much himself will not forgive the servant who owes so much less.
And, as in all good parables, the wicked servant suffers for his lack of forgiveness.
We can say that the message of this parable is, “forgive if you want to be forgiven”, but that is, I think, missing the whole point of the story..
‘Forgive if you want to be forgiven.’ is the most basic understanding of this Gospel, and Jesus always … always … always calls us to so much more than this.
Think about this for a second. Why should the wicked servant forgive the servant who owed him so much less?
In principle, in law, in theory there is absolutely no reason why this should happen. In fact, the wicked servant had every right to have the other servant thrown into prison until he paid his debt. After all he could argue: “He owes it; he should pay it.” “He shouldn’t have borrowed if he couldn’t pay back.” All of this is true.
So why should the wicked servant forgive the man who owed him less?
The only reason can be that the King showed the wicked servant what forgiveness is like. When the King forgave him the huge amount he owed, he suddenly felt the relief and joy and peace of being forgiven. The King showed him that forgiveness is possible – that forgiveness is a gift within him, a gift that he too can give to others.
At the very heart of Jesus there is forgiveness. He is motivated by it, he offers it, he gives it, he lives it.
His prayer on the Cross for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” is his ultimate moment of forgiveness – agony-filled, totally unjust, utterly humiliated, deserted and almost alone he forgives those who caused all his suffering.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But that is just what his life was leading to: The woman caught committing adultery – she is guilty yet not condemned. She is forgiven.
Think of the beautifully gentle way Jesus forgives Peter for denying him. Three times Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?”, each time, not just assuring him that he is forgiven, but allowing Peter to forgive himself.
The incredible story of the Prodigal Son tells us how deep forgiveness lives within us. Just imagine the depth of forgiveness the wronged father had within him: hurt and betrayed by his son, yet standing at his gate, day after day, year after year, praying and hoping that his son will return.
Everywhere we look in the life of Jesus, we find forgiveness.
And we are called by Jesus to live in the same way. We are not called to forgive because if we don’t, we will end up in hell ourselves.
We are called to forgive because we can forgive. The ability to forgive lives within each human person. It is a gift we can give to others.
This is what ‘forgiveness from the heart is’: It is, I forgive you just because I can. I don’t want anything back, I don’t want even thanks. Go, be at peace, relax, rest, enjoy life. You are forgiven.
Forgiveness is a gift we have within us to give to others. Jesus showed us that.
The boys on William Golding’s island were well mannered, kind, polite, honest, friendly, forgiving, because if they were not they would be criticised or punished. But once on their own, forgiveness, politeness, trust and honesty disappeared and their ‘real’ selves became visible – savage, cruel, selfish, brutal.
The boys on William Golding’s island could never “forgive from the heart.” Why? Because their hearts were dark and evil. Forgiveness was not within them. It was not a gift they could give.
The life of Jesus shows us that it is possible to live a life of forgiveness – and that is why we should do the same. Because Jesus showed us it was possible to forgive, trust, be honest, humble, compassionate, etc.
This Gospel tells us, Jesus tells us, God tells us that we are good people, created out of love, and capable of forgiveness.
The Good News of the Gospel is that war and terror and famine and cruelty are not what God sends us or wants for us. God wants only peace, joy, rest and happiness for us. Nothing else.
The really Good News of the Gospel is that these things are possible for us to attain.
We have within us the power to forgive from the heart. It is a power that can change the world. It is a power that will change the world.
Why? Because we are at heart good and blessed people, and we have the power to forgive…..
All we have to do is start……
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
|Gospel Sunday September 17th, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time|
To be forgiven, you must forgive
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