Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Often Must I Forgive?

Moses went from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah, which faces Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land, from Gilead to Dan, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea (which we call the Mediterranean), the Negev, the Valley of Jericho, and the City of Psalms, as far as Zoar.

The LORD said to him: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

Moses, the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He was buried there, but to this day no one knows where his gravesite is located. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:1-12)

The Psalmist blesses the LORD who fills his soul with fire. How does God do that? There is a time to say prayers, and a time to stand up in the midst of the assembly and shout for joy, and sing praise to the LORD. When was the last time you “shouted joyfully” to God, and “loudly” sang his praise/ Worship does not have to be loud, but every once in a while shouts of praise have a way of breaking through the humdrum of everyday life, the boredom of routine spiritual exercises. Every so often we need to be filled with fire.

Today’s gospel depicts a time when brothers and sisters do not listen to one another, and will not accept fraternal correction. Jesus presents a process for winning them back.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”

Jesus has given to the Church the power to bind and to loose, both in heaven and on earth. When we pray to God, we know that God will listen. How can two or three persons agree in prayer and expect the heavens to open and the earth to move beneath their feet? Because Jesus is in the midst of them.

Listen to the wisdom of two of our Fathers in the Faith in comment on this passage.

John Chrysostom wrote: The gospel does not use words such as “accuse” or “punish him”, “take him to heart.“ The one who is healthy must reach out to the one who is ill. You must correct a wayward brother privately, in a manner that is easy to accept. The words “correct him” mean that you help him to recognize his indiscretion, and that you have been hurt by it.” Then he added, “Do you see how Jesus seeks not only the interest of the aggrieved party, but also that of the one who caused the grief …? If he had sought the interest of the aggrieved party alone, he would not have told him to forgive his brother seventy times seven times (Matt. 18:22)”

Saint Augustine says that we are obliged by love to correct someone who has done wrong. “He has done you harm, and by doing harm, he has stricken himself with a grievous wound. Will you then completely ignore your brother’s wound? Will you simply watch him stumble and fall? Will you ignore his predicament? If so, you are worse in your silence than he was in his abuse.” See how Augustine interprets the hard saying, “If the offender refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be treated as you would a Gentile or a tax-collector.” Even so, his salvation is not to be neglected. We do not count the Gentiles and the pagans as members of our community, yet we constantly pray for their salvation.

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