The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
September 17, 2023 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 18:21-35
Download this simple process to Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method.
A well-founded tradition notes that before Matthew left his occupation to follow Jesus, he was a tax collector. Those serving the Romans, who ruled Palestine in the time of Jesus, depended on tax collectors to support them by gathering sufficient funds from the locals. The Romans wanted exact population counts and precise records of how much was expected and how much was acquired each year. The health of the Roman Empire survived on precision. Its roads were straight, and its coffers were full.
This year we are reading excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew. This Sunday we learn about the teaching of Jesus regarding forgiveness. And we benefit from the precision with which Matthew recalls the specifics of the directives of Jesus as to exactly how much we are to forgive those who have offended us.
The number “seven” was a very symbolic number in those times. It meant “a lot.” Literally. So, when Jesus is asked by Peter (who is ever-questioning and ever-curious in the gospels) about how many times we should forgive the faults, misdeeds and offences of others toward us, Peter (always looking for opportunities to impress Jesus) answers his own question first with the number “seven.”
Not quite, responded Jesus. How about seventy-seven times? In other words, much more than you might even imagine. Perhaps there is no limit to forgiveness. Fortunately, Matthew, attuned to recording exact numbers from his tax collector days, wrote the exact amount of times that Jesus said. And we have it today.
We have all experienced times of being hurt, misunderstood, ignored or offended, both in word and in deed. We have all been tempted in such situations to fight back or get even with those who have offended us. “An eye for an eye” is something mentioned in earlier scripture writings. But that was not the way of Jesus, and not what he calls his followers to do. And it’s not what he did when he was tortured and violently killed on the cross.
So why this call to forgive seemingly without limit? Perhaps it is because that’s how God treats us. We have all given God many reasons to judge and even punish us for our sins, failings and misdeeds. Yet God forgives us. And if God acts this way with us, we should also act in a similar way with others. And this will certainly make us better people as well.
David M. Thomas, PhD