The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time are particularly challenging. If they aren’t, then you are already a saint! (Indeed, there are some of you out there!) I will leave it to the reader to know them for the purpose of this article (see link), but here are some particular thoughts.
They are about forgiveness.
Not holding grudges.
The overwhelming mercy of God.
“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven” (Sir 28:2).
“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” (Rom 14:7-8).
Whether we like it or not; whether we know it or not, we belong to our Creator. He placed His life within us, and gave us FREEDOM to choose the good. It is choosing that which is not good, namely sin, that leads to slavery and death. By conquering death, the Lord offered us the opportunity of new life, again by our free choice. When we are enslaved in our sin we are no longer free.
This is what unforgiveness, grudges, and resentment does to our hearts. It enslaves us. The slavery can be so “felt” that we have no idea how to get out. We don’t even feel like we have the capacity to act differently. But all is not lost.
This is what the Lord does:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).
When we invite Jesus in, He brings the healing balm of love and mercy. He stands in between us and the evil that hurts us. He separates the evil from our hearts and sends it back to the spiritual nothingness that is the realm of the Evil One.
Now for the fun part! It is time for an analogy. What Jesus does for us is like what soap does to a virus!
It is commonly known that oil and water don’t mix. Most people have observed the phenomenon of oil floating on top of water. Adding soap is a way to make them mix. The molecular properties of soap allow it to stand in between the oil and water. It binds with different parts of the molecules in the oil and the water, bridges the gap between them, and creates a homogenous mixture. (See adorable video link!) The reason why soap and water work best for cleaning hands of a virus is because the soap destroys the oily layer of the virus and attaches to the genetic material inside, which is then washed away with excess water. (See image). During our coronavirus crisis, the idea was put forth that one should say an Our Father while washing hands, in order to give the soap enough time to attach to the virus particles on our hands.
Isn’t it interesting that the prayer that Jesus taught us brings not only the spiritual healing we need, but also the material? By taking the time to pray while washing our hands with soap and water, the destructive material within the cell of the virus is washed away. In doing this we take good care of both our spirits and our bodies.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This phrase of the Our Father should remind us of Sirach 28:2 quoted above. We must pray and ask for help from the only One who can help. Just as washing one’s hands without soap is ineffective, so too is forgiveness without Jesus. We desperately need the go-between. Furthermore, as Jesus says in the Gospels today, forgiveness is a continuous decision. “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22). The number seven in Sacred Scripture is the number for wholeness, for completion. Jesus makes it clear — complete forgiveness from the heart is necessary. This is the forgiveness that He showed from the Cross, as He stretched out His hands from East to West, and prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Every moment of every day, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, let us invite Him into our hearts, so that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.