Reading 1: Sirach: 27:30-28:7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Reading 2: Romans 14:7-9
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-36
In the Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, the protagonist confronts the crippling feeling of anger and the baleful effect the emotion has on the individual. When Morrison sat down for an interview in 1987 with CBS radio host Don Swaim, she identified anger as a paralyzing emotion that potentially renders a person helpless. “It is an absence of control,” she said. Bouts of anger often lead to pain, violence, and destruction. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, scenes of an angry show of force have become commonplace on our streets. Time and again, a request to wear a face covering escalates into an altercation.
In the gospel reading, the servant who receives his master’s forgiveness refuses to forgive his fellow servant. Paralyzed by anger, he forgets the relationship with his fellow servant forged under trust, compassion, and friendship. Also, he forgets his own experience of falling at his master’s feet, pleading for mercy, asking for patience, solemnly promising to pay back the loan (Matt 18:26), and eventually receiving mercy, forgiveness, and loan cancelation (v 27). Yet, when his fellow servant falls at his feet, begs him, asks for patience with a promise to pay back the loan (v 29), he meets public shaming and the vengeance of imprisonment (v 30).
His master has his anger under control and connects with his servant’s humanity, but the servant loses control of his anger and diminishes the humanity of his fellow servant. His master is moved with pity, compassion, and empathy, but the servant is moved with vengeance and indifference. The master is affectionate (splángchnon), so he connects with the personhood of his servant and empathizes with his challenging living conditions (v 27). Unfortunately, the same servant is unable to give his fellow servant the same experience of freedom, dignity, and empathy that he has received and experienced from his master. Being unforgiving, the servant maintains his fellow servant’s financial vulnerability, denies him freedom, and isolates him and his family in a jail (v 30). Can anyone refuse mercy to another person and expect to be treated differently (Sirach 28:4)?
The pandemic has produced a pressure cooker in our homes, streets, and cities, straining even the strongest of partnerships and relationships. Anger and frustration escalate as families struggle to cope with their relationships and maintain the best practices that keep them together. The uncertainties surrounding the new school year are causing anxiety, anger, and frustration to many families and students. Racial tension and violence have eroded the neighborly kindness, goodwill, harmony, and security that exist on our streets and cities. Anger rises to dangerous heights at the tiniest of provocation. The alarming rise of homicide is a sad reminder of the absence of control of our anger as our lives and those of others are stripped of sanctity and sacredness.
Ultimately, the lectionary readings this Sunday invite us to be affectionate and kind towards one another. We are reminded that our relationship with one another has implications for our relationship with God. The mercy, pardon, and forgiveness that we receive from God must be extended to others. The gospel reading identifies our relationship with God in the master’s relationship with his servant, and the servant’s relationship to his fellow servant with the revelation that God will treat us just as we treat each other: “So will my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (v 35). The Gospel of Matthew makes the imitation of God as an essential character of Christian life: be good and noble in character just as God is good (Matt 5:48). What value is my Christian life, therefore, if I dehumanize a child of God for whose sake the saving plan of God is inaugurated in Christ? Indeed, the golden rule of doing noble deeds towards others, just as we wish the same for ourselves, presents us with an invitation for an authentic Christian life and spirituality (Matt 7:12).
Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies
Director of Biblical Studies & Travel Program