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Sunday Scripture: If we live, we live to the Lord

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September 11, 2011

By Sister Betty Jane Lillie, SC

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sirach 27:30-28:9; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18:15-2


The statement that opens our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (Romans 14:7). Paul continues, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).  


For Paul, this saying follows a discussion about rules for living in the faith community. Those who are weak in faith, and those who are strong in faith, need to have respect for one another so that not judging others can lead to peace as each gives account for himself to God (Romans 14:12). We are back again to personal responsibility for moral decision making. 


Of course, that does not mean that moral principles are subject to personal whim.  Some interpretations could lead to scruples for those who are weak in faith. On the other hand, Paul would say that the strong ought to use discretion in the pursuit of their freedom so as not to injure those, who though misdirected, are well meaning — or quasi well meaning.  We are working here with the “holier than thou” contingent in the community, and it is likely hard to deal with. It is just as difficult to work with the “anything goes” advocates. 


Thus we have an argument in favor of sound religious education so as to integrate what the church really teaches. Given that virtue stands in the middle of the way, we still have to use discretion and be understanding of the difficulties that often arise.


Following the custom of readings in Ordinary Time, we have in our first reading a discussion that draws out the concepts involved in such decision making processes.  The Book of Ben Sirah (Sirach) represents a kind of late Jewish Literature (132 BCE) that moves toward the development of Christian thinking. So this reading can be seen as a kind of link in the developing Rabbinic and New Testament thought. Paul comes in line with all of that, so at times we see some similarities in the two writers.   


When we come to our Gospel reading from Matthew, we may want to remember his Jewish background and watch how he presents the teaching of Jesus to Peter.  He does it by presenting a saying in the form of a parable that uses a parabolic brain-twister to draw listeners into a thought process. 


Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone. Jesus answered with the then current saying that in effect meant a number so large as to defy calculations, namely “70 times seven.” In other words, if Peter thought he could wiggle out of the process of forgiving by establishing a limit, Jesus had a different idea. Peter could not impose a limit. Only God can judge the hearts of people. As we have read before, God does not rejoice in the death of sinners, but in their turning back to Him. 


With the psalmist we ought not to forget the Lord’s benefits to us.  God’s love for humankind is far greater than we can humanly imagine. (Psalm 103)


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