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September 11, 1987     The Message
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September 11, 1987

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September 11, 19871 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 5 Commentary Mass Readings By DON DILGER In Gospel,, word of Jesus goes far beyond even the Law of Moses Gospel for Sunday, Sept. 13, 1987 Matthew 18:21.35 -- Forgiveness It is helpl to read the text of the Gospel before reading the commentary. Last Sunday's Gospel was about fraternal cor- rection. The whole Church community was ad- dressed in that Gospel as it is in today's Gospel. In last Sunday's Gospel the whole Church community exercised the office of excluding a member from the community. That could have led to the conclu- sion that there were no leaders in the Church. Mat- thev is careful to show now that there were leaders. That is why he puts the question into the mouth of Peter. Matthew emphasizes Peter more than the other Gospels do. A similar saying about forgiving seven times occurs in Luke 17:4 but in an entirely different setting and without Peter. This shows us how freely the writers of the Gospels adapted to differing circumstances the material they received from tradition. They were free to change it according to the needs of their particular church community. Thus, Peter, the pre-eminent leader of the Church. in Matthew's Gospel, is made to ask Jesus the question: "Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" In ancient times the number seven was regard- ed as the perfect number so it would seem a matter of perfection to forgive seven times. But, as in so many other instances, Jesues turns ordinary values upside down. His answer: "Up to seventy times seven times." This answer echoes a saying in Gen.4:23-24 there spoken by the patriarch Lamech: "...I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech is avenged SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN TIMES." This is known as the "Song of Sword," an ancient song of revenge. The background to the saying is that in Gen.4:15, after Cain had been punished by the Lord for the murder of his brother, he expressed the fear that he would be killed. The Lord promises that if he is killed, the Lord .himself would avenge him seven times But Lamech is not satisfied with sevenfold I vengeance. The vengeance he would take is without limit -- seven times seventy times. This is the cry of participants in a blood feud where whole clans kill each other off. The Law of Moses had taken a giant step for- ward when, in Exodus 21, it declared: " shall appoint a penalty -- life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." The law of revenge now had a strict limitation. Only that could be avenged which had been harm- ed. Blood feuds with wholesale vengeance were out. Now Jesus goes far beyond even the Law of Moses. Already in the Sermon on the Mount he had said: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you...whoever slaps you on the cheek turn the other also." {Mt.5:38-39} He goes even beyond this in commanding love for enemies and prayer for persecutors. The same idea is expressed in today's Gospel in the answer of Jesus to Peter: "I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven times." This word of Jesus can be addressed both to the Church community and to the individual. In last Sunday's Gospel it had seemed that for the one excluded from the Church there was no further recourse. He was to be to the community "as a Gentile and a tax-collector." Matthew shows here that even for such a one forgiveness, and we presume repentance, is possible. The Apostle Paul, in I Cor.5:6, joins himself to a community decision "to deliver a sinner over to Satan {we presume ex- communication is meant} that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Even exclu- sion from the community was for the purpose of repentance. As an illustration of unlimited forgiving, Mat- thew now adds a parable found in no other of the four Gospels -- the Parable of the Unmerciful Ser- vant (slave}. The slave of the parable should be thought of as a high official who had perhaps over- borrowed or even misused the national wealth. In ancient times, if one could not pay, bankruptcy proceedings were somewhat less refined than in our time. The debtor and his family were sold into slavery. The sum of 10,000 talents is the highest that anyone could imagine -- something like our own unimagineable national debt of one trillion plus. The sum owed is made so enormously im- possible to point out that the act of forgiveness on the part of the King is just as impossible to a nor- mal way of thinking. But that describes Christian forgiveness -- it must be without limit. The official has been forgiven. Next on the scene is the fellow-official who owes a denarius to the one who has just been forgiven the huge debt. A denarius was the ordinary day's wages. The presentation seems humorous to us. The man has just been forgiven. Now he grabs the man who owes him a day's wages and begins to choke him -- a rather drastic action which even modem col- lectin agents do not attempt. The parable intends to point out the meanness of the man and that the forgiveness he received did him no good since he did not share it with others. His selfishness is reported to the King who had been so generous. He had indeed been forgiven by the King but his heart was unwilling to accept the forgiveness as is shown by his own unwillingness to forgive. The penalty seems rather strange to us -- he is handed over to the torturers until'he repays everything he owes. We already know he owes an impossible sum. However, the details of a parable must not be pressed too closely. The important thing is the point the parable is trying to make. Forgiveness must be without limit. But a person who does not pass on that act of forgiving to others has not ac- cepted the forgiveness extended to himself. The act of forgiving which the Heavenly Father extends to us can only be received into a generous and forgiv- ing heart. If that condition is not present, the act of the Father remains without effect in the one receiv- ing it. This is another way of saying what Matthew has already recorded in 6:12: "...forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." The love of a forgiving God is always present to us, but it will not operate in us unless we in turn become instruments of that forgiving love by extending it to others. Vatican Letter Anecdotes spice meeting over Catholic-Jewish tensions By AGOSTINO BONO NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- The bells at the papal summer villa were chiming noon on Sept. 1 when Pope John Paul II began a meeting with Jewish leaders that came after weeks of in- ":,creasing tension in Catholic- Jewish relations. But despite the seriousness of the issues -- such as the Vatican's refusal of full diplomatic relations with Israel and the pope's controversial meeting with Austrian Presi- dent Kurt Waldheim -- there was enough good will in the conference room for rabbis to recount genial anecdotes about their experiences with Catholics and for the pope to give an extemporaneous theological discourse relating the Exodus to the Holocaust. "."' During the 65-minute en- counter in Castel Gandolfo, Rabbi Alexander Schindler recalled how, during the pope's Oct. 2, 1979, visit to New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, he held a young boy standing next to him up for a better view of Catholicism's leader. Rabbi Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said he told the boy to remember that it was a rabbi who helped him get a look at a pope. Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum noted that after learning that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, had been elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978, he called his Polish father-in- law, who lived in Krakow, to get a reading on the new head of the Catholic Church. His father-in-law said the new pope would be good for Jewish relations, Rabbi Tanen- baum recalled. In discussing the horrors of the Holocaust, the pope also harked to personal experiences. He told the nine Jewish leaders that as a young man he lived near a Jewish community which later was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. The pope also launched a spontaneous theological discussion of the Holocaust, citing as a model the Old Testa- ment Exodus, when Moses led the Jews out of bondage in Egypt. "Citing the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt as a paradigm and a continuing source of hope, the pope mov- ingly expressed his deep con- viction that, with God's help, evil can be overcome in history, even the awesome evil of the Shoah," said a communique issued after the meeting. Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Nazis' Jewish extermination campaign. Members of the Jewish delegation were pleased with the parallels the pope drew be- tween the Exodus and the Holocaust. For Judaism, the Holocaust is a deeply religious experience forming part of God's ongoing dialogue with his chosen peo- ple. Because of his comments the pope has raised new possibilities in Catholic-Jewish theological dialogue, said Rab- bi Leon Klenicki, director of in- terfaith affairs of the Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. " The Exodus led the Jews to the "promised land" and if the Holocaust is a new Exodus, it needs to be followed by a rebuilding of the Jewish people, said Rabbi Klenicki. This opens the door for discussing the modern state of Israel as part of that rebuilding, he said. Vatican diplomatic recogni- tion of Israel is a principal item on the Jewish dialogue agenda. The meeting wrapped up two days of Catholic-Jewish talks aimed at easing tensions raised by the pope's June 25 meeting with Waldheim, accused by Jewish groups of participating in war crimes as an officer in the World War II German army. Waldheim has denied the ac- cusations. Although disagreement over the wisdom of thd Waldheim meeting remains, the meetings erased the shadow which it had cast over the generally positive atmosphere of the last 20 years of official Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Office for Blind relocates WASHINGTON {NC} -- Of. rices of the association that serves the 150,000 legally blind Catholics in the United States have opened in the nation's capital. The Catholic Association of Persons with Visual Impair- ment, which was located in Pit- tsburgh, is now sharing office space with the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities. The organization was found- ed in 1954 as the American Federation of Catholic Workers I for the Blind and Visually Han- dicapped. Its board decided in 1984 to change the organiza- tion's name and to open its membership to non- professionals. It encourages Catholic ser-' vices for the blind and visually handicapped persons in those parts of the country where those services do not exist. Editor's Note: The mailing address and phone number of the association are P.O. Box 29113, Washington, D.C. 20017; (202) 529-2933. Please patronize Message advertisers! I