BY DAVID MARION
24th Sunday of the Year: F.cclesiasticus 27: 30-28:7 Romans 14: 7-9. Matthew 18: 21-35 TODAY'S READINGS ALL circle around the themes of judgment and forgiveness. They contain a pointed message for most of us who have our own collection of private enemies who have injured us and never get forgiven.
Ecclesiasticus was written, by someone we now call Ben Sira, about two hundred years before the birth of Our Lord. Ben Sira had a high regard both for priesthood and the temple liturgy. He stood out against the tide of Greek influence which was threatening to swamp the religion and the culture of his people.
His book is also an odd collection of advice and warnings on subjects as various as the advantages of wine and the necessity of beating one's children.
Today's passage has withstood the test of time. "Resentment and anger" are certainly foul things. Vengeance does belong to God alone. For those of us given to chewing over past injuries this is good advice. It was Martin Luther King who once said "Let no man drag you down so low that you begin to hate him."
Our first job is the beam in our own eye, as the gospel tells us. Our passage from St Paul does not, quite literally, go far enough. If we read on to include verses 10-14 it becomes clear that St Paul is also talking about forgiveness and judgment just like Ben Sira.
"Why do you pass judgment on your brother... we shall all stand before God's tribunal", says St Paul to the Romans.
Our Lord's parable, as reconciled by St Matthew, delivered just before he left Galilee for Judea has more to it than simply forgiveness. Why should we forgive? Because we have no business to be judging other people. Only God judges and it is we who need the forgiveness. The Master in the parable feels sorry for his debtor servant. But the debtor servant has no compassion for this lowly equal who is in the same fix. He has him thrown into prison. For such cruelty he gets what he deserves.
This is of course only a parable. Our heavenly Father is not actually going to hand us over to the torturers. If we cut ourselves off from God we have only ourselves to blame.
All three readings have a good pastoral content. We love dwelling on other peoples failings. But the tongue is a dangerous instrument. Ben Sira, elsewhere, has this to say "Many have fallen by the edge of the sword but many more have fallen by the tongue put a door with bolts across your mouth".
The message is over two thousand years old but it still makes sense. t