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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the mystery of forgiveness with the help of philosopher Hannah Arendt; engage the centrality of mercy in Catholic Social Teaching and its relation to justice and forgiveness; and embody the meaning of forgiveness with a meditation, The Forgiveness Project, and the music of Leonard Cohen.

Commentary by Sónia Monteiro

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Sirach 27:28 – 28:1–7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer YHWH’s vengeance,
for the Most High remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbors when they offend you,
then you will be forgiven when you pray.
When we tend our anger against another,
how can we expect compassion from YHWH?
If we refuse mercy to our neighbor,
can we ever seek YHWH’s forgiveness for our sins?
If mere mortals cherish rage,
to whom will they turn for forgiveness
Meditate on the last things, and end your quarrelling;
meditate on your end, and stop sinning.
Meditate on the commandments, and do not hate your neighbor;
meditate on YHWH’s covenant, and forgive all who offend you.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 103

Response: Our God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving.

Bless Our God, my soul, / bless God’s holy Name, all that is in me!
Bless Our God,my soul, / and remember all God’s kindnesses.
R: Our God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving.

In forgiving all your offenses, / in curing all your diseases.
In redeeming your life from the pit,
In crowning you with love and tenderness.
R: Our God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving.

Whose indignation does not last forever,
And whose resentment lasts for a short time only;
Our God never treats us, never punishes us / as our guilt and our sins deserve.
R: Our God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving.

No less than the height of heaven over earth
Is the greatness of Our God’s love for those who fear God;
The Most High takes our sins farther away / than the east is from the west.
R: Our God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving.

Reading 2

Romans 14:7-9

We do not live for ourselves,
nor do we die for ourselves.
While we live, we live for Christ Jesus,
and when we die, we die for Christ Jesus.
Both in life and in death we belong to Christ.
That is why Christ died and came to life again—
in order to reign supreme over both the living and the dead.


Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came up and asked Jesus,
“When a sister or brother wrongs me,
how many times must I forgive? Seven times?”

“No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times;
I tell you seventy times seven. And here’s why:

“The kindom of heaven is like a ruler
who decided to settle accounts with the royal officials.
When the audit was begun,
one was brought in who owed tens of millions of dollars.
As the debtor had no way of paying,
the ruler ordered this official to be sold, along with family and property,
in payment of the debt.

“At this, the official bowed down in homage and said,
‘I beg you, your highness, be patient with me
and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with pity, the ruler let the official go and wrote off the debt.
“Then that same official went out and met a colleague
who owed the official twenty dollars.
The official seized and throttled this debtor with the demand,
‘Pay back what you owe!’

“The debtor dropped to the ground and began to plead,
‘Just give me time and I will pay you back in full.’
But the official would hear none of it,
and instead had the colleague put in debtor’s prison until the money was paid.

“When the other officials saw what had
happened, they were deeply grieved, and
went to the ruler, reporting the entire
incident. The ruler sent for the first official
and said, ‘You worthless wretch! I canceled
your entire debt when you pleaded with me.
Should you not have dealt mercifully with
your colleague, as I dealt with you?’ Then in
anger, the ruler handed the official over to be
tortured until the debt had been paid in full.
“My Abba in heaven will treat you exactly
the same way unless you truly forgive your
sisters and brothers from your hearts.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.




Forgiveness has become a common term, but nonetheless ambiguous. Forgiveness is not a univocal concept. We do not share the same understanding, nor mean the same thing when we speak of forgiveness, even within the context of the Church. It is undisputed that forgiveness is an essential dimension of Christian faith. But what does it mean to forgive? For some, it means forgetting or “letting go” of what happened; for others it has to do with the ability to understand and accept those who offended us; and for many it is compared to reconciliation, presupposing repentance. Many of these situations or actions that we call forgiveness may not necessarily be so.

Forgiveness is not a strange term in Scripture. Wisdom literature implicitly calls for acts of forgiveness and mercy when warning against the perils of wrath and anger (Ps 37:8). In the New Testament, Jesus is more explicit about the significance of forgiveness in human relationships. Forgiveness has a central place both in Jesus’s teachings and his actions. Today’s Gospel invites us to consider Jesus’ stance regarding this experience. 

From the parable of the unforgiving servant, I identify two important points. The first one has to do with the king’s unlimited forgiveness towards his servant. In the Greek, the expression “huge amount” means 10,000 talents, which would correspond to 60 million days’ wages – an unimaginable amount that speaks to the extraordinary, superabundant, and hyperbolic nature of God’s forgiveness which extends to human forgiveness. There is an “excess,” a mysterious aura around the act of forgiveness that goes beyond our capacity to fully comprehend it and that, above all, calls for our acknowledgement and responsibility. 

The second point addresses the fact that the king’s forgiveness opens a new possibility for his servant. This new beginning is not, however, without responsibility as if nothing had happened. This new beginning, which forgiveness opens up, only becomes a real possibility if there is a genuine change of heart of the forgiven one. This does not mean that God’s forgiveness is conditioned by our actions, but only a redeemed heart will be able to truly experiment and perceive the mysterious power of forgiveness. In this context, we can understand forgiveness, with the help of philosopher Hannah Arendt in her work The Human Condition, as a response to who we are, and not to what we are in our characteristics and weaknesses. Without forgiveness, our agency would be determined and twisted by one single misdeed. Arendt recognizes that in forgiveness we “remain superior to what [we] have done, at least as long as the source of creativity is alive” (211).

The servant’s lack of mercy towards his fellows confirms how he was distant from that source of creativity and life and, thus, had failed to recognize and receive the king’s forgiveness. As written in the Gospel of John, “whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (1 John 2:9). Could anyone who refuses mercy to someone else truly believe in the power of forgiveness? This false conscience, which does not carry nor assume the weight of guilt, is an obstacle to the creative force of forgiveness. It also generates distrust around the possibility of forgiveness and subverts its meaning. Forgiveness is not a “free-pass” or a mere “formality” that grants the possibility to act as if nothing had happened. On the contrary, forgiveness opens up the possibility of a transformed life and not the repetition of what was. At the core of the forgiving act is the tension between the past and future, which means we must refuse to expect a simple repetition of the past. We must reach beyond the established status quo in the act of forgiving.

In sum, forgiveness without repentance, without the acknowledgment of the evil committed and its repercussions, has no liberating capacity. The servant’s imprisonment is not a punishment; it is primarily a consequence of his lack of repentance and refusal to a ‘new life,’ a new paradigm. His imprisonment reflects that he remains captive to the cycles of return and retribution, in which everyone is expected to pay what is owed. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, we witness that God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are interconnected, that our relationship to God cannot be understood apart from our earthly life and our relationships.

Commentary by Sónia Monteiro

Sónia Monteiro is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology and a Senior Teaching Fellow for the 2022-23 academic year at Fordham University. Her research interests include Christology, Political Theology, and Ignatian Spirituality. Before coming to New York, Sónia worked as a lawyer in Portugal. She also spent a few years working with local communities in Angola. Sónia is an active member of The Grail, an international and ecumenical movement of lay women from diverse backgrounds.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

“Mercy is the first attribute of God” – said Pope Francis to the Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli, who published his conversation with Francis in the book The Name of God is Mercy. Building on Saint Thomas Aquinas’s theology, which argues that God’s mercy is the sign of God’s omnipotence, Francis claims that God’s mercy knows no limits because God, like the woman who lost her silver coin, will not stop until those who are lost are found. 

Pope Francis has written extensively on the reality of mercy and its central place in the life of the Church. On his Misericordiae vultus, a bull of indiction issued in April 2015 for the extraordinary jubilee of mercy, Francis argues that “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life” (no. 10). In other words, mercy has an ethical and practical dimension that should guide the life of the Church. It is not a mere emotion or feeling, even less an abstract idea. It implies a (re)action before suffering. It implies a response and responsibility that grow out of love toward those who have been affected by the reality of evil and sin. These responses can take multiple forms according to the particularities of each situation. Forgiveness and justice are two distinct manifestations of this merciful love.

Despite their distinctiveness, forgiveness and justice should not be seen as two contradictory realities. They seek to liberate those who were caught in the reality of evil and sin, both victims and aggressors/trespassers. They have different ways of responding to the harm that has been done, but that they share important presuppositions. They both reject a path  of revenge, wrath, and violence and they both require truth-telling. Without truth neither forgiveness nor justice are possible. In fact, and according to Pope John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation “An Appeal for Peace and Reconciliation”, peace and genuine reconciliation cannot exist without justice and forgiveness (272-275). 

At the same time, forgiveness and justice should not be confused. Justice is often understood as that which is rightly due to every person. Forgiveness exceeds what is due to the other. The logic of forgiveness is not that of reciprocity, but of gratuitousness. The tension that exists between both realities does not mean that they are mutually exclusive, but that they have different realms and ways of acting. Justice is a fundamental principle for civil society. Forgiveness happens at the interpersonal level, at the very heart of human relationships. There will always be a tension between both, but as Pope Francis says in Misericordiae vultus, “these are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love” (no. 20). 


A Contemplative Exercise

Today’s readings invite us to contemplate the mystery of mercy and forgiveness. These are not abstract ideas or categories, but fundamental experiences that reveal the Transcendent within human life. This week, you are invited to meditate on the corporal works of mercy inspired in the life and teachings of Jesus, and to commit to carry out one of these acts of mercy in your week. After that, you are encouraged to set aside some time to meditate on what you have experienced.

A Community

The Forgiveness Project

The Forgiveness Project, founded in 2004 by the journalist Marina Cantacuzino, collects and shares narratives from those who have experienced conflict and crime and seek to rebuild their lives without ignoring the hurt and pain that they have suffered and/or have caused. As it is stated on the website, at the heart of this project lies the belief that “restorative narratives have the power to transform lives.” These interrupt cycles of hate and violence are manifestations of human resistance to any form of dehumanization. This project is led by a secular organization and includes narratives “from all faiths and none.” Here we will encounter, for instance, the story of Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war who was tortured by the Japanese for more than three years during the construction of the Burma-Siam Railway, between 1940 and 1943. In 1945, Lomax was finally released and returned to Edinburgh, but the memories of those dehumanizing years were still haunting him and tearing him apart. More than 50 years after, he found out that his torturer, Nagase Takashi, was still alive and had gone through a process of repentance. Lomax’s wife wrote to Nagase hoping that it would help her husband to free himself from that past. The letter that Nagase wrote back marked a turning point to Lomax, the possibility “to think the unthinkable.” In 1998, Lomax and Nagase finally met in Thailand.  


Come Healing by Leonard Cohe

Leonard Cohen, Come Healing (Old Ideas album, 2012.)

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb