The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 17, 2017
Sirach 27, 30-28,7 + Psalm 103 + Romans 14, 7-9 + Matthew 18, 21-35
St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
We have all heard this this instruction of Jesus many times over the years, and the challenge of forgiveness remains with us always. I have given and you have heard as many homilies on this text as there years of its repetition in the cycle of our readings. But, as I sat with it a few weeks ago, a verse emerged that I had passed over. It’s that part about those fellow servants who, as the Gospel says, “saw what had happened, were badly shaken, and went to their master to report the whole incident.” I would like to suggest that perhaps God’s Word is giving us more than an instruction on forgiveness here.
The story hangs on the role of those fellow servants who were badly shaken. If they had kept quiet and minded their own business perhaps expecting to get the same favorable treatment for themselves, there would be nothing here to admire. What’s happening here happens all the time. Way too often beneficiaries of kindness or generosity fail to follow the example of those who have been generous to them. They get and they keep. They feel as though it is theirs, they earned it, and they are going to keep it all. What makes this story important and formative for faithful people is those fellow servants. Some would call them names, especially those who have some behavior to defend. In our younger days we called them, “snitches” or “tattletales.” Now we call them “whistle blowers”, or “impractical dreamers”, and their reward for courage is not always so good.
However, I call them “advocates”, and the world and the society in which we proclaim this gospel could use a few more of them, because their courage uncovers and calls into question all kinds of injustice and bad behavior that is incompatible with the world we would like to live in. I think, in many ways, this Gospel is encouraging us to work for and create the kind of world we all want, the kind of world that God dreamed of at the moment of creation. It is a world of generous forgiveness, but more than that. It is also a world of justice; a justice that can only be achieved when people like these fellow workers do not just shrug off or look away in the face of all kinds of injustice. Advocates like these take a stand without concern about what someone else may think or what names they may be called.
There is a ministry of “bringing to attention” the injustice suffered by others. These advocates speak for others. They are people who make real the truth of our communion, the bond we share together in this life. They understand that what happens to one of us happens to us all. Advocates speak up and sometimes act up to right things that are wrong. We have an example of that in this Gospel. We have a challenge put before us. Disciples of Jesus are more than ministers of forgiveness, they are also ministers of justice. I’ve always found it interesting that in other countries and in their languages, the title used for lawyer or attorneys is “Advocate”. Isn’t it interesting how that title sifts the focus from the law to the person. It will be a really good day, and move us closer to the Reign of God when we are badly shaken by anything that deprives another of justice.