Express and live out our gratitude

Third Sunday of the Season of Creation

September 17, 2023 | 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30-28:9
Ps. 103:1-4, 9-12
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

Reading from the Book of Sirach. The mission of relaying God’s call to “integral ecological conversion” in these times can lead to frustration and anger when people refuse to listen, deny the truth and evidence, resist acting, and even actively oppose the work of caring for and healing Earth and all its Web of Life out of greed for wealth or power.

When crises are as urgent and destructive as the ecological/climate crises today, it is hard to be patient and gentle with those causing them who do not see the truth and the need or are not willing to change. When we watch families starve, the Amazon burn, floods ravage, arctic 

regions melt, nations wage wars, and crucial waters evaporate in rising heat, anger about the thoughtlessness and destruction seems just and called for. When people we love suffer from the changing climate or various forms of environmental racism and injustice, the desire to strike out against those responsible rises quickly. The human costs to those alive now and to future generations can be devastating. Earth is even now going through the Sixth Great Extinction with massive costs to all life.

Still, Sirach warns that clinging to anger and vengeance will bring God’s anger and vengeance upon us. We must forgive others’ injustice if we hope to have God forgive our own.

Legitimate righteous anger, on the other hand, can provide energy and courage to speak out and work for change, but this kind of anger seeks understanding, conversion, and reconciliation, not vengeance or destruction. It does not become bitter. As we nurture a spirituality of nonviolence, the frustration and fear for the future that we feel can move us to join and strengthen nonviolent movements for the societal transformation essential to creation care.

Psalm 103 celebrates God’s forgiveness, mercy, patience, and compassion for us. As we pray this psalm in the context of the Season of Creation, the Spirit is working with us to deepen our felt gratitude for countless wonderful gifts of creation and for God’s mercy and forgiveness for the abuse of these gifts. The Spirit longs to heal us and rescue our lives from the destruction threatening us all.

How have we experienced God’s patience and forgiveness for the ways we receive, live in, and treat God’s gifts of Earth, of creation? As individuals? As a community? 

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans, in its fuller context, serves to encourage Christians not to judge one another. Each one lives or dies for Christ and “each of us shall give an account to God.” [Romans: 14:12]

Matthew’s gospel answers two questions: How often must we forgive someone who seeks forgiveness? And what will happen if we don’t forgive each other?

Jesus could not be clearer: We must forgive not 7 times but 77 times – a metaphor in his time and culture for a number without limit. Every time they ask forgiveness sincerely, we must give it from our hearts. If we do not forgive each other when we have been forgiven so much by God, we will lose God’s forgiveness.

To recognize how precious God’s forgiveness for the misuse of the gifts of creation is, we need to be conscious of how precious and sacred those gifts are.

How has God patiently increased our awareness of the preciousness of the gifts of creation? Of land and water, clean air and life and…?

What do we most appreciate, enjoy and rely on in nature? How can we come to recognize it more as a gift from God? How can we grow in appreciation of these gifts as we contemplate their loss to climate change, to more violent storms, floods, fires, heat waves…?

How can we contemplate God present in these gifts? How can we grow in discerning God’s Self-gift in and through them? 

As we have grown in consciousness of God’s gifts in creation and of our destructive use and abuse of them, we have experienced God’s patience, mercy, and call to conversion in our lives – a conversion to Gospel nonviolence and to what Pope Francis has called an integral ecological conversion. 

How have we been forgiven in our individual journeys thus far? In our community life? For what are we still in need of forgiveness now? 

How can we expand our consciousness of the ways we continue to live unaware of or unconcerned about the violence to creation from waste, pollution, a “throw away culture,” overuse of resources, inequality, and poverty?

Acknowledging our sins, failures, slowness to change, and asking forgiveness, we need to contemplate and give profound thanks to God for this patience, gentleness in forgiving us, teaching us, drawing us to work for the new creation.

How can we express and live out our gratitude for God’s patient forgiveness to us personally? As a community? How can we work at deepening and nurturing that gratitude of spirit? What type of liturgies, prayers, actions together can nurture this spiritual growth?

How can that gratitude call forth in us patience and forgiveness for those “behind us” in this journey? For those resisting or denying the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth?

Faith Reflections

Are you among those who believe in God who creates all things, inviting our contemplation, wonder, and awe at their rich diversity, beauty, and goodness in the unimaginable vastness of space and time? 

Are you among those who believe in God who entrusts Earth in all its richness, diversity, and goodness to the care of the Earth community and is patient and forgiving of our failures and sins against its health, survival, and flourishing?

Are you among those who believe in Jesus, who reminds us of God’s patient, faithful love and forgiveness for us each and calls us to unfailing forgiveness toward each other?

Are you among those who believe in Jesus, God become flesh and blood, a human part of Earth, who lived and breathed, worked, prayed, and preached among us, who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount to live nonviolently, who suffered, died on a cross, and rose again, glorified, to show clearly the extent and power of God’s forgiving love?

Are you among those who believe in the Holy Spirit who renews life in creation, groans in unity with a suffering creation, and waits, working with us, for the rebirth of creation?

This is our faith. Through it we see God’s revelation emerging in new ways among us. Through it we embrace the promise that our deepest spiritual longings will come to fulfillment through the Spirit in the ages to come. Amen.