HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR A
THEME: LEAVING THE PRISONS OF HURTS AND UNFORGIVENESS
BY: REV FR GERALD MUOKA
Homily for Sunday September 13 2020
R1 – Sir. 27:30-28:7
R2 – Rom. 14:7-9
RESP. PS. – PS. 103: 1-4, 9-12
GOSPEL – Matt. 18:21-35
When Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States of America met Nelson Mandela for the first time, he had a question on his mind: “When you were released from prison, Mr. Mandela,” Clinton said, “I woke my daughter at three o’clock in the morning. I wanted her to see this historic event.” Then President Clinton continued: “As you marched from the cellblock across the yard to the gate of the prison, the camera focused on your face. I have never seen such resentful anger, and even hatred, in any man as was expressed on your face at that time. That’s not the Nelson Mandela I know today,” said Clinton. “What was that about?”
Mandela who had continually reminded his fellow prisoners in South Africa that unless they let go of their hurts they would remain in the grip of their abusers, answered:
“I’m surprised that you saw that, and I regret that the cameras caught my anger. As I walked across the courtyard that day, I thought to myself, ‘They’ve taken everything from you that matters. Your cause is dead. Your family is gone. Your friends have been killed. Now they’re releasing you, but there’s nothing left for you out there.’ And I hated them for what they had taken from me. Then, I sensed an inner voice saying to me, ‘Nelson! For twenty-seven years you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man! Don’t allow them to make you into a free man, only to turn you into a prisoner because of unforgiveness. With that in mind, he had to let go and move on, a different and happy man.
Beloved in Christ, at the heart of the readings of today’s liturgy is the call to leave the prisons and bondage of unforgiveness by pulling down all walls of hatred, anger, resentments and revenge.
Just as Nelson Mandela observed; anger, resentment and hatred have unknowingly convicted and forced many of us into serving some 10 years, 5 years , 3 years, 1 year, 6 Months, 1 month etc., relationship imprisonment and bondage, because of unforgiveness and bitterness.
There are many relatives, friends, homes, families, kindreds, communities, offices, shops, streets and avenues we have not crossed, entered, visited or spoken to for days, months, years or decades because of “esemokwu or okwu na uka”(rift, bitterness and hatred).
This is because, you can never be free to be a whole person if you are unable to forgive. There are many people who are imprisoned by their own anger, their own hurt, their own inability to let go of the past and move on. I call it Neo-imprisonment and Jesus warns us to beware of it today.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus chose to startle us with the greatest puzzle of all time, by mandating us that, for us to enjoy some long walk to freedom of the conscience in our interpersonal relationship, we need to forgive seventy times seven, which was preceded
by the parable of unforgiving servant, illustrating the grand scheme of things, manifesting how the Father continually forgives us of great debts and expects us to do the same to others.
*WHY DID JESUS CHOOSE 70 X 7 = 490 TIMES TO FORGIVE?*
At first, Peter thought he was being really spiritual by his willingness to forgive up to seven times. Peter mentioned 7 times, because, first of all, the Hebrew Numeric Value of 7 means “completeness” and “perfection”. Secondly, the Rabbis had taught 3 times before revenge (Amos 1:13; 2:1).
Thirdly, perhaps, Peter had an eye to _Proverbs 24:16,_ which says, “a just man falleth seven times a day.
Jesus’ response to forgive someone up to 490 times must have been quite a shock! So the number of times Jesus instructs us to forgive must have some deeper significance.
This is because, Hebrew is alphanumeric which means that every word has a numerical value. Words that share the same numeric value are often connected in some way and these connections frequently communicate deeper spiritual insights.
*THE VALUE OF 70 X 7 = 490* *ACCORDING TO BIBLICAL ALPHANUMEROLOGY*
First, it is important to note that “490” per say is never actually written in the Bible as so. 490 is either written as SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN or SEVENTY SEVENS. There is a reason for this. The reason is so that we can recognize God’s natural divisions of time. You see all basic increments of Biblical time are ordered by the number SEVEN, appearing 735 times in the scriptures, meanning COMPLETENESS or SPIRITUAL PERFECTION.
*INCREMENTS OF “SEVEN ” IN BIBLICAL TIME*
1. Creation was perfected on the SEVENTH DAY (Gen. 2.2)
2. There are SEVEN DAYS in a week with the seventh day set aside as a Sabbath day of rest ( Ex 20:11).
3. There are WEEKS OF YEARS (7 year cycles). Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year of rest for the land ( Lev 25:2-7).
4. After every SEVEN TIMES SEVEN of years (49 years) there was to be a year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-55).
*WHY THE EMPHASIS ON 490*
•Lamech, a descendant of Cain, killed a young man (possibly unintentionally) in self-defense. He warned that if he were killed because of the death that his murder would be avenged seventy times seven (Genesis 4:23 – 24).
•For there was a time in Israel’s history when they neglected to observe every SEVENTH YEAR AS A SABBATH OF REST for the land. (Lev 25:2-7). They did this for 490 years! Yes that’s right. They violated God’s Commandments for 490 straight years by failing to observe 70 Yearly Sabbaths (II Chr 36:20-21).
•SEVENTY WEEKS OF YEARS are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” -Daniel 9:24
*SECRET OF 70 X 70 = 490: WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?*
You have seen when Christ gave the example of 70×7, he was not just literally saying, forgive 490 times (70×7=490). Christ was actually alluding to the 490 years that the Jews had spent in captivity and slavery. They were taken from their homeland, their families were torn apart, and they were enslaved, along with many other atrocities that they endured.
He was saying even in the hardest of situations, forgive. Even after their enemies had hurt them and wronged them for almost five centuries, He was teaching them to forgive. He knew what harboring the unforgiveness would do them no good.
*HOW CAN WE FORGIVE 490 TIMES*
Ben Sirach in the First Reading gives us two KEYS inorder unlock the prisons of unforgiveness, hurts and quarrels. They include:
*(1) TAMING ANGER*
*(2) CURBING RESENTMENTS*
*(1) TAMING ANGER*
(Iju iwe oku)
In a speech Abraham Lincoln delivered at the height of the American Civil War,
he referred to the Southerners as fellow human beings who were in
error that ought to be forgiven. An elderly lady chastised him for not calling them irreconcilable
enemies who must be destroyed. “Why, madam,” Lincoln replied,
“do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend?” According to him, such feat cannot be achieved without “taming our anger inorder not to metamorphose into resentment.”
Anger is not always a negative emotion, most especially, when it is tamed or healthily expressed. Yet anger can be devastating and disastrous. St Jerome says, “it is the door by which other vices enter the soul.” Anger precipitates men into resentment, blasphemy, scandal, etc. The growing trend of stabbing of partners and homicide stem from untamed anger. Today, most people use such unchristian expressions; “I dont tolerate nonsense”, “I don’t take shit” “I get easily angered” etc. The scripture calls on us to tame our anger since, “God’s saving justice is never served by human anger” (James 1:20).
*TO MANAGE AND HEALTHILY EXPRESS YOUR ANGER:*
St. Francis De Sales, who once claimed that it took him more than twenty years to learn to control his temper, said of anger management:
“to avoid the sin of anger, you must quickly ask God to give peace to your heart when you’re angered and then turn your thoughts to something else. Don’t discuss the matter at hand, or make decisions, or correct another person while you’re angry. When a person angers you, St. Francis advises, consider the person’s good qualities, rather than the words or actions you find objectionable.”
~Learn the skill of taking time out to cool down
~Take deep breaths and count to ten
~Reframe the situation so that you aren’t feeling resentful
*(2) CURBING RESENTMENTS*
(igbara onuma oso).
Resentment is a feeling of bitterness that is different from anger, which is a mere feeling of displeasure. Whereas, anger is a reaction to unpleasant situations, resentment involved a voluntary act of dwelling in the past events, especially, hurts.
Lasting and untamed anger, graduates into resentment. Resentment is a killer disease. According to St Augustine, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
According to Fr J. Benitez, a New York physician, as stated by Norman Vincent Peal says that 70% of his patients reveal resentment in their case histories. “Grudges and ill will help people get sick. Forgiveness will do more toward getting them well than many pills,” this physician said. Many of us died of grudgititis – a long held hatred for another person.
We ought to curb resentment because, according to Louise Hay in her book entitled, You Can Heal Your Life: “All diseases come from a state of unforgiveness. Whenever we are ill, we need to search our hearts to see whom it is we need to forgive…
Forgiveness means giving up, letting go. It has nothing to do with condoning behavior. It’s just letting the whole thing go. We do not have to know how to forgive. All we need to do is to be willing to forgive. God will take care of the how.”
Little wonder the scripture warns, “do not allow resentments lead you into sin. The sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity. (Eph. 4:26-27).
Finally, thirty-nine years ago (1981), there was an attempt on the life of Pope St. John Paul II. Fortunately, the Pope lived. After he recovered, he shocked the world when he made a visit to Rome’s Rabbibia Prison on Christmas Day to see the man who had attempted to assassinate him. Millions watched on television as the Pope, on Christmas Day, visited Mehmet Ali Agca, who only two before had tried to assassinate him with some bullet shots.
The white-robed Pope and jean-clad terrorist huddled in the dark prison cell for 20 minutes, talking in low voices that could not be heard. John Paul after the visit explained, *“I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned.”*
The Time Magazine the next week after the incident, had a captivating headline: *“WHY FORGIVE?”*
That is a good question, one that has been asked for centuries. The question that has never left us till date… *WHY FORGIVE?* Today’s readings give us reasons to forgive: Our compassionate and merciful God as described by the psalmist, forgives us and expects us unlike the unforgiving servant to FORGIVE
Three months after the terrible attack of September 11, 2001, the same Pope St. John Paul II, in his message for the annual World Day for Peace, taught clearly that there can be no peace without justice, and there can be no justice without forgiveness.
SO, BE PART OF JESUS’ PLANNED PRISON BREAKS TODAY, FROM THE BONDAGE AND PRISON OF HURTS, BITTERNESS AND UNFORGIVENESS; BY NOT ONLY SEEKING JUSTICE FOR PEACE TO REIGN, BUT ALSO COMPLEMENTING JUSTICE WITH FORGIVENESS LIKE GOD, WHO CONDEMNED US IN HIS JUSTICE AND EQUALLY, FORGAVE AND REDEEMED US IN HIS MERCIFUL FORGIVENESS.
MAY THE GOOD LORD FREE US FROM THE BONDAGE AND IMPRISONMENT OF HURTS, ANGER, RESENTMENT AND UNFORGIVENESS, AMEN.
*GOD BLESS YOU!*
FR GERALD MUOKA