16Aug 16 August. Thursday, Week 19

1st Reading: Ezekiel (12:1-12)

Ezekiel mimes going into exile, as a warning to the people

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.”

Responsorial (Ps 78)

R./: Do not forget the works of the Lord

They tempted and rebelled against God the Most High,
and did not keep his decrees.
They turned back and were faithless like their fathers;
they recoiled like a treacherous bow. (R./)

They angered him with their mountain shrines
roused his jealousy with their worship of idols.
God heard and was enraged
and utterly rejected Israel. (R./)

And he surrendered his ark into captivity,
his glory in the hands of the foe.
He abandoned his people to the sword
and was enraged against his inheritance. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (18:21-19:1)

How many times should a person forgive?

Peter came and said to Jesus , “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.


Barriers to cross

Basic biblical signs such as passing through the Red Sea and crossing the River Jordan can and should be applied to our own lives, and in this we are helped by the prophet Ezekiel and by the Gospel, through various parables on how to handle difficult transitions in life. Ezekiel describes two symbolic actions by which God intended Israel to learn a vital lesson. 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, he declares that his actions concern Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel. We too may need to look again at some people or ideas we tend to ridicule, and question our motives; for we too can be a “rebellious house” blind to the wider truth and to the consequences of our actions.

Perhaps the most difficult barrier to cross is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often are we obliged to do so? we ask with Peter. The Lord’s simple answer, “seventy times seven times” is not meant literally. So he tells the story of the king who forgave a very serious debt. The implied question is, how are we unable to forgive the debts of a neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying motive here is not “justice” but as we read in the story, the king was “moved with pity.” We are challenged by this parable: are others allowed to appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to pass, the need for patience with those who have offended us. It seems that this parable is not about some optional, higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: “My Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.” Even if forgiveness seems heroic it seems to be required!


The limits of forgiveness

Learning to forgive those who have hurt us is one of the greatest challenges in life. Peter’s question to Jesus as the beginning of the gospel comes of out that sense of how difficult it is to forgive someone, ‘How often must I forgive my brother?’ The implication of his question is that there has to be a limit to forgiveness. Peter decides to err on the generous side, suggesting seven times would be often enough. In the biblical culture of the time, seven was considered to be the complete number. To forgive seven times is complete forgiveness; surely, no more could be asked of someone. Yet, Jesus does ask more, not seven times, but seventy seven times. There is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive. Jesus underpins this very challenging call with the parable that he tells.

The servant owes his master ten thousand talents, a massive sum of money that simply could never be paid back. Yet the master felt so sorry for his servant that he simply cancelled the debt completely. Here we have the triumph of grace over justice. There is an image here of the gracious and generous way that God deals with us. Jesus reveals a God whose mercy triumphs over justice. The most memorable image of such a God is the father in the story of the prodigal son. The remainder of the parable in this morning’s gospel tells us that we must allow the mercy that God freely pours into our lives to flow through us to touch others. This is what the servant who was forgiven failed to do. One of the sayings of Jesus expresses the message of today’s parable very succinctly, ‘Be merciful as your Father is merciful.’

(Saint Stephen of Hungary)

Stephen (975 1038 AD), was the first King of Hungary from 1000 to his death in 1038. He was the first member of his family to become a Christian, after marrying the devout Gisela of Bavaria. He established one archbishopric, six bishoprics and three Benedictine monasteries, and encouraged the spread of Christianity, partly by force. Hungary, which enjoyed a long period of peace during his reign, became a preferred route for pilgrims travelling from Western Europe to the Holy Land. He was canonized in 1083.

4 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    I remember my delight in school when being introduced to proverbs, those pithy sayings that tell us so much about life. One of those proverbs says ‘Actions speak louder than words’, and they do. What we see people do is far more powerful than anything that we say. So it is that Ezekiel is told by God to act out his message so that people can see loud and clear the message meant for them.

    Look at ourselves today and what do we see? People lost in their mobile phones and computers, thinking ourselves connected to life but in fact isolated from all that surrounds us. In our crowded world we walk past each other without acknowledgement and a smile of greeting is as rare as the dodo. Every action we do speaks volumes by way of interaction or avoidance of life.

    To greet one another and acknowledge the presence of another is the beginning of the compassionate life. We share in this world and all its troubles as well as its joys. If we have pity on our fellow human beings as God has pity on us we are on the high road to life.

  2. Dominic May

    Dear Brian,

    So good to read your reflections again. I was once one of your students in Kent. God bless you and continue to inspire you


  3. Brian Fahy

    Dominic @ 2

    Thank you Dominic, appreciation makes us grow great in happiness of heart (makarios) and I am delighted to hear from you across the years. My memory fails me though and I cannot picture you now. Forgive an old man and thank you again. Life is a long and winding road. God bless.

  4. Brian Fahy

    Exile is such a sad thing, to have to leave the people and the place you love and to go far away. Ireland knows only too well. My mother and her sisters went into exile in the 1930s and spent their lives coming home in summer to see their beloved mother. All my life I have made that same journey from the land of exile back home to where we once belonged.

    Exile happens today when war and famine and lack of opportunity drive people away from their beloved homelands. Exile also happens when people fall out and become estranged from one another. When families break up grandparents often become exiled from their grandchildren because love has broken down.

    Ezekiel sees the cause of exile in rebellion. A set of rebels the Lord calls his people. Whenever we rebel against the way of justice and love we cause people to go into exile. That is why reconciliation is so important. Do not become estranged from people, especially from people you once loved. Love them still.

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