Remember the end of your life – Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The reading from the Book Sirach (Ben Sira) is an appropriate follow-up to my focus in this space last week, on what we do about disagreements between us. Jesus articulated a way forward, a way toward reconciliation and peace.
Alas! There are times when we hold on to the anger and wrath. We seek revenge. It is neither physically nor spiritually good for us, but many of us can tend to fall victim to that.
We lose sleep and precious energy plotting our revenge and musing about what I should have said to that so-and-so. Just you wait and see! I’ll get back at you, when you least expect! We can spend our nights planning our attack.
That certainly happens at an individual and family level. It also happens at the level of nations or between certain classes and categories of people. We often witness the tension that it produces. Children can grow up assuming that it’s acceptable to dislike people because of the colour of their skin or the language they speak or the values they espouse.
How often do we hear of families with wealth who lose so much of it to lawyers as they bicker and plot revenge and try to maintain control of the family fortune? Lawsuits, murder, arguments over the custody of children and even pets – where does it end!
Sirach offers us a very practical and helpful perspective about the long view of this hatred and enmity. Remember the end of your life. Remember the end that awaits you. What will the anger and wrath have produced at the end of my days! I’ll probably have a few more enemies than others. I may even have more money. And if the anger has really burned me up, I may have cardiac issues or ulcers.
Ben Sira says that he did not compose the book for personal gain, but for all who seek instruction. The section we have today concerns malice, anger and vengeance. Holding grudges and hating our neighbour are nothing new. They feature in many sections of sacred scripture, in novels and plays, and in real-life dramas.
Contrasted with the one who holds on to vengeance is the God of Psalm 103. The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. The Psalmist describes a God who will not keep angry forever, who will not deal with us according to our sins. The Psalmist describes the great gap between God and us. As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
Thus Jesus can spell out the great magnanimity of God and God’s forgiveness, a greatness that is expressed in our forgiveness of our brother or sister from your heart. It’s not just forgiveness in a framed document. It is from our heart. It is sincere.
That sincerity must distinguish all acts or forgiveness and reconciliation. I would imagine that the First Nations of this country continue to feel cheated because the great words of reconciliation are not much better than framed documents on a wall. True reconciliation in family life is not just sharing in the inheritance. It is truly being brother and sister.