16 August. Thursday of Week Nineteen
Ezek 12:1ff. The rebelliousness of Israel provides a setting for the prophet’s symbolic actions, his parables in action.
Matthew 18:21ff. Forgive many times, unlike the pardoned official who was harsh towards his own debtors.
A Change of Heart
After the two verses of today’s reading the rest of Ezekiel 12 describes two symbolic actions. He carries all of his belongings through a hole in the city walls, silently with his head covered, so as to see the land no more. He eats his bread and drinks water in a state of trembling. These action parables fascinate the people and absorb their attention, offering them a period of grace to think and pray. But then they ridicule Ezekiel, and at that point he declares the meaning of his action, “This oracle concerns Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel within it.” We too may need to look again at people or events we tend to ridicule, and cross-question our motives; for we too can be a “rebellious house” having eyes that see nothing, ears yet hearing nothing – because we do not want to see the whole truth, or hear the real consequences of our actions.
Perhaps the most difficult barrier to cross is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often must we do so, we wonder. We do not care for the Lord’s “seventy times seven times,” so he tells us the story of the king who forgave his servant a very serious debt. How was he unable to forgive the debts of a neighbour who owed so much less? The underlying dynamic here is not “justice” but that the king was “moved with pity.” We are put on trial by this parable: do we make it easy for others to appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to cross over – the need for patience with those who have not cooperated fully with us and have delayed payment. And this parable is not about optional, higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: My heavenly Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.
Matthew concludes with a statement of Jesus’ moving elsewhere, his typical way of ending one of the major sections of his gospel. This parable on heroic forgiveness ends the great section on discipleship.
First Reading: Ezekiel 12:1-12
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile; and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who go into exile. Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry the baggage through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage on your shoulder, and carry it out in the dark; you shall cover your face, so that you may not see the land; for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.
I did just as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands; I brought it out in the dark, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.
In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, “What are you doing?” Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel in it.” Say, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.” And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage on his shoulder in the dark, and shall go out; he shall dig through the wall and carry it through; he shall cover his face, so that he may not see the land with his eyes.
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-19:1
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.