490 Times (or More)

Matthew 18:21-35 – The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 14, 2014

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me…’” (Matthew 18:21)

The “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant,” which is the subtitle used in my old New Revised Standard Version, is easily understood.

(And maybe unsettling.)

The disciple Peter asked Jesus how many times he must forgive another.

ForgiveNot surprisingly, Jesus told Peter a parable. In the parable, Person A forgave Person B. Did it matter that Person A was the “master” and Person B was the “servant?” While it added detail and tension, I’m not sure it’s important. One forgave another. The story continued, becoming more complicated. Person B, having felt the joy of forgiveness, was next seen confronting Person C.

Person C owed Person B.

B didn’t forgive C. Indeed, B did bad things to C.

A, clearly in the loop of information, learned what B did to C.

As quick as you can say a-b-c, Person B, once forgiven, once the recipient of compassion, was tossed into the slammer by A.

(Whew. Bad things do happen to bad people!)

Christianity, from the earliest Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions through today’s rise of non-denominational churches, has emphasized the healing power of forgiveness. But what about other religions? The Qur’an, in Surah 7:199, implored: Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant. The Buddha invited: To understand everything is to forgive everything.

Isn’t forgiveness central to every faith tradition?

(Please forgive me if you think I’m wrong!) Continue reading →

I Am Always Right

Matthew 18:15-20 – The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 7, 2014

“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together…” (Matthew 18:15)

Before knowing my father had dementia, I blamed his vexing behaviors on other things.

Dad was elderly and tired. His hearing was awful (and had been for years). He’d become human cement, set in his ways. He resented, as his body weakened, his loss of independence.

So when he lashed out at me during a visit to Mom and Dad’s home, with his eyes ablaze and jaw clenched and his voice sounding more animal growl than human grumble, I knew where to point my finger: at those “other things.”

“Get out of this house,” he roared. “Don’t come back.”

Dad’s fury, launched at me with the unnerving abruptness of a lightning strike when the storm is miles away, happened several times before my family recognized he had dementia.

Whether or not you recognize what a Pharisee is (hey, not everyone that reads my stuff reads the Bible!), feel free to substitute someone or some group that you "know" is wrong...
Whether or not you recognize what a Pharisee is (hey, not everyone who reads my stuff reads the Bible!), feel free to substitute someone or some group that you “know” is wrong…

I recall how I felt when my father, the lion in winter, verbally assaulted me. What a cranky old fool! Such a stubborn jerk!

And this too: how dare he sin against me? His son! His guest!

I did not retreat from his fury. Remember, I didn’t know of his dementia. I had those other excuses. I tried to engage him in conversation, to comprehend his leave-my-house demand. I did not return his anger with my anger, or his hurt with my hurt. Like the Gospel of Matthew encouraged, “if your brother or sister [or father] sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together.”

Of course, in the New Testament’s Greek, there wasn’t a reference to “sister” in the scripture. But we moderns, desiring to be modern, readily and rightly add “sister” in the interpretation. Women are equal opportunity sinners too, right?

And so are fathers. So was Dad. Continue reading →

That Woman

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28 – The 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 17, 2014

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27)

Christ and the Canaanite Woman - FLANDES  (c. 1500)
Christ and the Canaanite Woman – Flandes (c. 1500)

First, Jesus ignored the woman . . . But he did not answer her at all.

Then, Jesus claimed she wasn’t on his to-do list . . . I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Finally, Jesus insulted her . . . It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The third time certainly wasn’t charming for the person known in Matthew as “the Canaanite woman.” According to Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, the One who would become the Christ, she apparently was no better than a wayward mongrel, scrabbling for discarded food.

Usually, when I read these unnerving and stark verses, I admire the courage of the Gospel writer to show Jesus in an unflattering light. I am enthralled with Jesus’s change of mind. For here, in the middle of Matthew, there was odd evidence that flamed doubt about Jesus being “perfect.” Here, readers witnessed Jesus not as fully divine and fully human, but far from divine and frustratingly human. How fascinating to debate what this meant (and means) about Jesus, whether we’re in seminary diligently studying for the ministry, pulpiteering in a church with far from divine and frustrating humans, or cornered by a grumpy agnostic at a garage sale.

How ‘bout that irksome, insulting, irritating Jesus!

And yet today, in this next reading of a familiar passage, I’m not much interested in Jesus and his heartlessness or in his change of heart.

It’s that woman. Continue reading →