Saturday, September 3, 2011

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time(A)

 Bond on earth, bound in heaven 

Every generation 
Blames the one before 
And all of their frustrations 
Come knocking at your door 

I am not sure if you recognize the words of the song, but it is the opening lines of a one that was very popular a few years ago called The Living Years, and it still gets plenty of play on the radio. I find that songs and poems often put words on things much better than I can. The song is about a man’s realtionship with his father. The father has died, and it seems that there was a troubled relationship between them. The singer reflects on their relationship; their differences; maybe the arguments they had. The lyrics are filled with regret and with sadness. Many things were left unfinished and unspoken between them; he regrets all the things that were not said in the Living Years.  Very ordinary things and unfortunately not that uncommon.

Today’s Gospel is about ordinary life. The very first line Jesus says ‘if your brother or sister does something wrong’. Living as part of a family, as part of the community, we will inevitably face situations where people will do us wrong, and of course, there will be times when we do wrong to others ourselves.

Some of the teachings of the Catholic Church are hard for many to accept. Living in a world that does not prize what we hold dear can make the conflict between the spirit of the Gospel and the spirit of the world, to say the least, challenging. Sometimes the hard teachings are presented as the ones about morality, however I would argue that one of the most difficult teachings of all scarcely gets a mention. It is a part of the faith that is fundamental to what we believe, it almost sums up everything we believe as Christians- what is this teaching? It is one we profess in the Creed every Sunday – and that is – forgiveness. While next Sunday’s Gospel asks how many times we forgive, today we are faced with the challenge living with others.

 When I was growing up, we were, as most children are, taught the Our Father. Every night we said our prayers and the first one was always the Our Father. It roles of the tongue, we know it as well as the ABC. In the prayer Jesus gave us, we always say “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. We had a neighbor who had a big sign on the gate of one of his fields, that said “NO TRESPASSING”, and I remember thinking that that what the prayer was about. As you get older, of course, you get to understand an bit more – that trespassing is much more than trampling on the grass of a neighbors farm.

The Gospel today, Christ brings us into the mystery of this teaching which any normal person will find difficult at least at some time or another. Jesus gives us a plan to resolve trouble that may occur between people. Go and have it out alone, if that does not work bring two witnesses, if that does not work report it to the community, and after all that, if the person you are having grief with does not listen – well, basically, we have to love them all the more.

Sometimes it is hard to go through a process like this, particularly when someone has hurt you. When someone does or says something to you that causes you pain – and the pain of a broken relationship can be as painful as any wound or sickness we might suffer – we often want to lash out, to tell the world and it’s mother what has happened to us and skip right down to the Lord’s last words – treat them like a tax collector or pagan- forgetting how Jesus Himself would have treated them. And that is all very easy to do; it’s certainly a natural reaction.
Jesus says something a bit different. The first port of call is simply to talk things over. How many unnecessary roughs and disputes could be talked over and solved without days and months and sometimes years of hostility and anger?

 Sometimes it is hard to forgive, particularly when we have been hurt by someone close to us. To be hurt by a brother or sister, a parent or child; to be hurt by a spouse in marriage; all these things are very hard to bear. And sometimes, listening to the good News, we can often say “how can I be expected to forgive” “does God have any idea what that person has put me through?”

There is a great poem by a Scottish poet called Robert Burns who wrote about man out with his friends one day and as the day rolled into night, they thought of home and trouble they were going to be in when they got back, he wrote:

We don’t think of the long Scots miles, 
The marshes, waters, steps and stiles, 
That lie between us and our home,
Where sits our sulken, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like a gathering storm, 
Nursing her wrath, to keep it warm.

It is so easy to keep the anger warm. The more we cuddle it and protect it and keep it alive, the more difficult it is ever to let it go. We can be content to spend a lifetime held captive by what others have done to us. The ‘brother or sister’ in the Gospel who is confronted, obviously has no idea of what they have done wrong or at least they don’t seem to care, if the conflict has to go through so many stages.

 The song I mentioned earlier has a very sad few lines:

I wasn't there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say

It goes on:

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Left on our own we can confirm every wrong idea we have of everyone we have ever met. Jesus today widens our perspective to remind us that we do not make that journey alone. Why does Christ make reference to all these other people; witnesses; the community. If I can’t sort out a problem alone, why do I need the help of others? To intimidate our opponent? To make ourselves out the to be better? I hardly think so. The wisdom of God knows that we function much better when we act with others.

 I do not believe for a moment that God expects us to forgive and forget in an instant, as if nothing was wrong. We can often seek peace and the olive branch may not be accepted; that’s where the last bit of today’s Gospel comes in. All we can do, is our best. If we are open to the Spirit, and genuinely wish to be at peace with each other, it will happen. If we can be open to what the Lord wants of us, to be willing to forgive and be forgiven, in time things will work out.

We have no idea what is in store for us:

So Don't yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don't give up, and don't give in
You may just be O.K.

Say it loud, say it clear 
You can listen as well as hear
It’s too late when we die 
To admit we don’t see eye to eye 

Jesus concludes:
“If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”

We do not make this journey alone we do it as part of the family of the Church, we do it with the help of God. And whatever difficulties we face, we do so with God’s help. All we need is patience and courage.

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