Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Lord, How Often Must I Forgive -- Seven Times?" "No, Not Seven, But Seventy Seven Times."

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Ezekiel 12:1-12
The word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, you live
in the midst of a rebellious house;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious house.
Now, son of man,
during the day while they are looking on,
prepare your baggage as though for exile,
and again while they are looking on,
migrate from where you live to another place;
perhaps they will see
that they are a rebellious house.
You shall bring out your baggage
like an exile in the daytime
while they are looking on;
in the evening,
again while they are looking on,
you shall go out
like one of those driven into exile;
while they look on,
dig a hole in the wall and pass through it;
while they look on,
shoulder the burden and set out in the darkness;
cover your face that you may not see the land,
for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.

I did as I was told.
During the day I brought out my baggage
as though it were that of an exile,
and at evening
I dug a hole through the wall with my hand
and, while they looked on,
set out in the darkness,
shouldering my burden.

Then, in the morning,
the word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man,
did not the house of Israel, that rebellious house,
ask you what you were doing?
Tell them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
This oracle concerns Jerusalem
and the whole house of Israel within it.
I am a sign for you:
as I have done, so shall it be done to them;
as captives they shall go into exile.
The prince who is among them
shall shoulder his burden
and set out in darkness,
going through a hole
he has dug out in the wall,
and covering his face lest he be seen by anyone.
The mime of the emigrant

Ezekiel is instructed by God to go through an elaborate mime as a message to his people to warn them of the coming deportation of the people of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon.

The people are described by God as rebels, as people who have eyes but do not see, have ears but do not hear, because they do not want to. Jesus will use similar terms in speaking of the people who refused to listen to him. He will quote from Isaiah, who received these instructions from Yahweh when he was being called as a prophet:
Go and say this to the people:
Listen carefully but you will not understand!
Look intently, but you shall know nothing!
You are to make the heart of this people sluggish,
to dull their ears and close their eyes;
else their eyes will see, their ears hear,
their heart understand,
and they will turn and be healed.
(Isaiah 6:9-10; cf. Matthew 13:14-15)

Ezekiel is told to pack up all his things like a person leaving home and going off into distant exile. Maybe when the people see him doing this its meaning will begin to dawn on them and they will realise that it is pointing to their rebellious behaviour.

The packing is to done by day in the sight of all but then he is to slip out in the evening but in such a way that he is seen as leaving covertly. He is to leave in darkness, through a hole in the mud wall of his house. His face is to be covered so that he cannot see the countryside which he is entering. All this is to make Ezekiel, the Lord’s prophet, a symbol or sign for what is going to happen to Israel.

Ezekiel did everything just as the Lord had commanded in full sight of the people. (We need to remember that he was a prophet and people would wonder about the significance of his rather strange actions.)

The following morning God again spoke to Ezekiel. When the people ask the prophet what is the meaning of what he is doing, they are to be told that the oracle (the mime is understand as having a message from God) is directed against the people of Jerusalem and the whole of Israel everywhere.

The meaning of Ezekiel’s mime is then clearly spelt out:
the people will go into exile and banishment;

King Zedekiah (”their ruler”) will carry his own belongings and go through a hole in the city wall; his face will be covered so that he will not be able to see the country.

In fact, Nebuchadnezzar will come and destroy Jerusalem and the people will be brought off into exile to Babylon. During the siege of the city, King Zedekiah and his army will try to escape through a breach in the city walls. But he was captured by the Babylonians and brought to Riblah. There his two sons were killed in his presence and then his eyes were put out before he was brought off to Babylon (see 2 Kings 25). The king’s blindness is a symbol of the blindness of the whole people.

In the Gospel Jesus frequently is seen healing the blind (those who cannot see) and the deaf (those who cannot hear) and the dumb (those who cannot speak). These are afflictions all of us can suffer from and prevent us from knowing and carrying out what God wants in our lives.

Let us ask today for healing and docility to God’s will for us. “Lord, that I may see!” *
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 78
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
They tempted and rebelled against God the Most High,
and kept not his decrees.
They turned back and were faithless like their fathers;
they recoiled like a treacherous bow.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
They angered him with their high places
and with their idols roused his jealousy.
God heard and was enraged
and utterly rejected Israel.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
And he surrendered his strength into captivity,
his glory in the hands of the foe.
He abandoned his people to the sword
and was enraged against his inheritance.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 18:21–19:1
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered,
“I say to you,
not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven
may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him
who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife,
his children,
and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down,
did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me,
and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion
the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left,
he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him,
demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees,
his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants
saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
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 his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
The discourse on the church (continued):
The last part of the discourse is on forgiveness. This is not unconnected with the previous section on excommunicating the unrepentant brother or sister. As soon as the brother/sister does repent, there must be forgiveness - not once but indefinitely, 77 times.
The reason is given in the parable which Jesus speaks about the two servants in debt. The one who had a huge debt to the king was forgiven but then refused to forgive a relatively trivial debt to a fellow servant. (Ten thousand talents would be the equivalent of hundreds of millions of a major currency today and the 300 denarii would be the equivalent about three months’ wages.)
The ones with the big debt to the king are clearly ourselves; the ones with the small debts to us are our brothers and sisters.
We do not expect God to forgive us once or twice or any limited number of times but every time. It is nowhere written that we have, say, only 10 chances of going to confession and, once our quota is used up, there is nothing left. But, if that is true of our relationship with God, it also has to be true in our relationships with others. We can never refuse an offer of reconciliation. And, we might add, forgiveness is only complete when reconciliation takes place.
This is not at all the same as turning a blind eye to wrongdoing. Yesterday’s text made that very clear. We are talking about healing divisions between people; we must never put obstacles in the way of that.
We have now come to the end of this discourse indicated by the first words of chapter 19: “When Jesus finished these words…”*
The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'The prince who is among them
shall shoulder his burden
and set out in darkness,
going through a hole
he has dug out in the wall,
and covering his face lest he be seen by anyone.'

Thank you for explaining how this prophecy relates to Zedekiah's awful fate and God's terrible retribution.

As yesterday, where the scourge reminds me of Christ being scourged, this passage reminds me of Our Lord's passion. 'The prince who is among them' fits the incarnate Son of God well. He too shouldered a burden and at one point He was blindfolded and ordered to prophesy who had hit Him. Darkness and a hole dug in a wall do not feature in the Passion, but they evoke death and the tomb. Combined with Christ's Gospel teaching on forgiveness in the Kingdom of Heaven, we get a sense of Christ taking on Himself the terrifying retributions of the Old Testament.