24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 September 2017 ~ St. Monica, Palatka & St. John Interlachen~ Father Ron
Sirach 27:30-28:9 ~ Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Psalm 103 ~ The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.!
Romans 14:7-9 ~ None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s..
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35~ Jesus completed his story, “His master summoned him and said to him, ’You wicked 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?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”
When Father David arrived at his first parish several years ago, he discovered the little town had a fascination for nicknames. He learned that the pharmacist O. R. Carlson is called “Wolf” because when he was a boy he called the police to report a wolf roaming the neighborhood. It turned out to be a large cat, but the name stuck. George, the fire chief, who was credited with saving the horse farm is called “Blazing Saddles.” Eleanor Duffy who owns the local body shop, is know as “Crash,” and Wayne Monson, a 6-foot-7-inch giant who runs a fix-it business, “Tinker.”
Sometimes entire families, such as the Crowleys, have interesting names. August Crowley was chair of the pastoral counsel. He also had the reputation of being a fine biblical scholar. August had attended seminary for a while and had a masters degree in Scripture. Father David thought nothing of August’s name until he met the three Crowley sisters, all members of the church. Their names—April, May, and June. Surely, Fr. David thought, this must be a family with a great sense of humor. In fact, the four Crowley’s had seemed to be a jolly group, until about three years ago when their mother Tillie died. The events surrounding Tillie Crowley’s death had caused a painful split in the family.
The sibling squabble broke out over the disposition of Tillie’s property. It was as one local wit said, spring against summer. April and May were on one side, June and August on the other.
During his first visit to the house after his mother died, August found messages under three antique lamps and on the backside of several pictures. The messages read, “This is for April,” or “This is for May.”
All four children had long believed that Tillie never completed a will. When they opened their mother’s safety deposit box, however, they discovered that she left a detailed will which included a list of what every child was to receive, down to the silverware. Her list and the names on the backs of the lamps and pictures did not match. It was pretty clear to June and August that the messages were written not by their mother, but by their sisters. World War III broke out in the Crowley family.
In the weeks that followed, each pair threatened the other with a lawsuit. Hardly a day passed when some juicy tidbit wasn’t released into the town’s gossip mill. One-week people were buzzing over what August did to April, and the next week over what May did to June.
Father David, as the pastor of the Fighting Irish, I mean Crowleys, preferred not to get involved in this family feud, yet found it increasingly difficult to avoid it. All four Crowleys attended church every Sunday, and April and August never missed the Sunday morning Bible class right before Mass. Neither was willing to let the other prevent them from attending, but the minute they arrived their icy stares seemed to make the temperature in the room drop. The family feud made everyone in the church uncomfortable.
Father David knew something had to be done and he took it to prayer. During the following Sunday Bible study, the pastor announced that next month they would focus on the gospel for the next week. He said, “I’m going to ask some of you to do a little homework for that class. I’ll call you this week.”
The first week the group studied Matthew 18:15-20. “In this passage Jesus gives us instructions on how to deal with grievances between believers,” Father said, “I’ll read just a section. ‘If your brother or sister sins against you, go to them and show them their fault. Do it privately. If they listen you have won your brother or sister back.’”
Although there was a lot of discussion, neither August nor April, normally quite vocal, took part. In conclusion David said, “The purpose of these instructions is to help us win back those we love. It grows out of conviction that we are to forgive the way we are forgiven.”
The following week Fr David made separate phone calls to April and August to ask them to write a brief paragraph for next Sunday’s class. After hesitating, each agreed. Unknown to the other, David gave them both the same assignment. “I’d like you to write 50 to 100 words on the “unforgivable sin,” he said.
At the next Bible study, Father David shared how Jesus wants forgiveness to overflow, he says ‘seventy times seven times.’ In other words, forgiveness without limits.
“In today’s Gospel Jesus underlines his message. A king had a servant who owed him millions of dollars, and there was no way the servant could ever repay that amount. Out of compassion the king forgave him.”
David saw April and August staring at the floor. “Next, the man who was forgiven insisted that a friend repay him 100 denarii, which may have been worth about $30. When his friend pleaded for mercy, the man refused and threw him into jail. When the king heard what happened, he arrested the first servant. The story ends with these words, ‘So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ‘” Father David concluded, “I think we may have another unforgiveable sin.”
There was an awkward silence until one of the women in the front row responded, “I don’t understand,” she said. “This story and your point aren’t clear to me.”
Father resisted saying anything more. He let the words hang in the air. Finally a man’s voice broke the silence. “It is painfully clear to me.” It was August, the biblical scholar.
“God is like the king,” he said slowly, without looking up. “God looks at the dark hearts of his servants, the debt people like you and me owe. There is no way we can repay him. We cry out, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.’ And in Christ’s death on the cross God forgives our massive debt to him, a debt worth millions. But when we meet a sister who owes us a few lousy bucks, we refuse to forgive that sister.” August glanced across the room briefly catching April’s eye. “We refuse to pass on the very forgiveness of the king, a forgiveness that allows us to walk free and live clear. The unforgivable sin is refusing to forgive as we have been forgiven. I’m afraid it is all too clear.”
When August finished, no one else spoke. The only sounds were a nervous cough and the noise of people changing positions on their hard metal chairs. Finally August stood up and walked out of the room. No one moved until the bell rang, calling people to Mass. August was not in his usual spot when the service began.
Father David thought about August during the entire service, and again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. He continually second-guessed his decision to go public with their family feud. At the time, he had decided it would take a terrible jolt to make them see. He also knew that their division was not private, but had touched the lives of the entire congregation.
David thought about visiting his friend, but decided to wait for August to make the first move. On Friday, August did. David looked up from his desk and saw him standing silently in the doorway. David wordlessly invited him in. For several minutes the two men sat looking at each other without speaking.
Finally August’s eyes narrowed. “That was a dirty trick you pulled on me Sunday,” he said. Then there was a long pause. “But I deserved it. This has been a long week. It has been a time of soul searching. You said nothing new, nothing I didn’t know. I knew all about forgiveness as a concept, an idea. For mercy sakes, I’ve led classes on the subject. My problem is that I knew little of forgiveness as an experience.”
August thought for a moment before he continued. “I visited my sisters last night. I told them I had been a fool. I told them their friendship was worth more than trinkets, whether those trinkets be new or antique. I asked them to pray for me. We all cried a lot before I left.”
Tears flowed down August’s wrinkled cheeks. “Father, I have sinned. Pray for me,” he cried.
Father David walked over to his friend and asked, “Is this your confession?” August nodded.
Father David put his hands on the old man’s head and spoke lovingly, “God the Father of all mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And let me be Jesus for you. I forgive you of all your sins, seventy times seven times. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Homily Story adapted extensively from Stories for the Gathering: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers by William R. White, 1997, Augusburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN ~ Family Feud, pp 78-82