Scripture for 9/11: Forgive, Forgive, Forgive!

Yesterday I wrote about how sometimes words are not enough, but perhaps I should have qualified my statement, saying instead that hunan words are sometimes not enough. God’s Word is another story.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, many all across the world were asking “where is God?” and in the years that followed equally as many struggled with what the morally just response might look like. Today’s scripture provides us with a startling and powerfully appropriate set of readings that help illustrate what a response might look like to that question.

It is completely coincidental, so it might first seem, that the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 would fall on a Sunday and that these readings, which because today happens to be a Sunday in Ordinary time, appear once every three years so happen to fit today perfectly. God does answer our prayers, concerns and questions — just not always as we might want, and just not always as quickly.

The readings for today, which come to us from the book of Sirach (also known as the Wisdom of ben Sirah), Romans and the Gospel of Matthew, speak directly to our situation as survivors and mourners of a tragedy that so deeply affected our communities, nation and world ten years ago and since. The Scripture given to us today may difficult for some to hear, especially amid the noise of suffering and the drone of pain. But we must hear it nonetheless.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults. (Sirach 27:30 – 28:7)

From the opening words, “Wrath and anger are hateful things,” to the closing, “…hate not your neighbor,” we are reminded of what it means to be called the Body of Christ and to bear the name of the one who gave His life for the life of the world. There is nothing more that needs to be said that the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures, of a community’s covenantal relationship with its Creator, reveals to us in the first reading.

It speaks for itself, and it speaks to us.

In what is an unusual consistency, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans also speaks to our hearts today, continuing the theme of remembrance and response. Paul’s words are words of comfort and edification, reminding his audience that it is because of what Christ has done for us in His life, death and resurrection, that we have hope and the dead are not lost.

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:7-9)

The Gospel really challenges us today. The words of Jesus ring out like the clearest bell sounding a call to action, a call to peace, a call to prayer that is so much easier to hear, with its beautiful tonal quality, than it is to live, with its demand that we move beyond ourselves to live as those created in God’s image and likeness.

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

What follows is Jesus’s very concrete illustration of what this means in practical, daily terms, as he tells the story of a King and an ungrateful servant. The servant is forgiven his debt, but goes and unjustly holds another accountable for a far more insignificant debt. The king, gracious in his forgiveness, sees what the ungrateful servant has done and punishes him severely.

Jesus warns that we are in the place of the servant, we have been forgiven so very much by God each and every day. It is now our turn to forgive others, as impossible as that might seem at times.

The message for the community of faith today is clear: forgive, forgive, forgive! We can take comfort in the words of the Apostle Paul, knowing that those we pause to remember today who have passed from this life to the next are with Christ and await us someday in hope. But we must also listen to Sirach and Jesus, as we know deep within, that who we are as human beings, and especially as Christians, will be revealed in how we respond to the call to forgive.

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5 Responses to “Scripture for 9/11: Forgive, Forgive, Forgive!”

  1. Two days after September 11, 2001, I was asked to speak at a panel at Iowa State University (where I was a campus minister at the Catholic Student Center.) I don’t remember all that I said but I did quote the lectionary readings for that day – Luke 6: 27-36: “Love your enemies…” It is amazing how the scriptures sometimes speak so forthrightly as they did then and do again this year.
    Thanks for your reflection.

  2. As I reflected on the readings today, my challenge was Jesus’, pointing out the King’s displeasure and punishment of the uncompassionate servant. While this is not a perfect analogy, but if one looks at all the good the country has done around the world, and also “forgiven” debt, etc., all the while these “friends” later become enemies, and turn their “vengence” upon others, then would not U.S. be able to take upon herself the role of the King. I realize this does not fit into the Franciscan rules against violence, but it was a random thought for consideration.

    Second, I enjoyed enjoyed our parish priest’s homily today. In summary, he did not focus so much on the “forgiveness” aspect of the readings, but concentrated on the hope for the future. Specifically, he highlighted the difference between of the 10 year anniversary marks of the Revolutionary, Civil, WWII, and 9/11. In each of the previous, we as a nation, moved forward, reconciled, and manage a sense of hope. We saw great prosperity. However, with 9/11 and 10 years later, he brought forward, the gridlock of Congress caused by the extremes of both majority parties, and forgetting about the majority. There is a lack of hope for the future, and perhaps this is the greater sin of the day. Rememberence of 9/11 is important upon which to reflect, but more important is to move-on. Remember the past and hope for the future. (I cannot due his homily justice in summation, but I believe I captured it essence).

    Lastly, are two interesting links. The first is from a former SEAL, author, who is focusing on more soft-powered conflict resolution. And the other is a good homily.

    http://powerfulpeace.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/my-piece-of-911-lived-with-and-watched-with-with-arab-seals-in-the-middle-east/#respond

    http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/110911

  3. Brother Dan, you have hit another home run.

  4. Dear Deacon Dan,

    For those of us who follow the Julian Calendar, 9/11 falls on the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist. This precursor of Christ shows us how we must decrease in order that He might increase. All real love is kenosis if it is patterned after God’s love for us. In love there is no fear, no violence, no hatred but inestimable compassion and mercy. Just as St. John the Baptist, we are to speak the truth in love.

  5. It’s enormous that you are getting thoughts from this article as well as from our dialogue made here.
    Fawn

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