• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach/Advocacy

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry




The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2020

Click here to watch Father Ryan give this homily. The homily begins at 23:30.

    Forgiveness is one life’s most difficult challenges. But we have no choice. In saying that, I am thinking not only of the gospel of forgiveness that Jesus preached, I am also thinking of the teachings, the holy wisdom, of another, much less well-known teacher, also named Jesus – Jesus Ben Sirach – the author of today’s first reading from the Book of Sirach.

     The Book of Sirach (sometimes called Ecclesiasticus) isn’t all that well-known. It is part of our Catholic Bible but it’s not part of the Jewish Bible, and some scholars have advanced the theory that that one possible reason it’s not is that its teaching about forgiveness and mercy as the only proper response to violence are not in keeping with the Jewish Law, the Torah, which makes clear provision for retaliation - measured retaliation, for sure, but retaliation, nonetheless. For instance, if your eye was ‘taken’ in a fight, you could take an eye in return, but no more; the same for a tooth, or a limb, and so forth. But that doesn’t sound like today’s passage from Sirach.  Listen again and you will see why it could have been regarded as being out of step with the Jewish Law:

              Wrath and anger are hateful things…             
              The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance
              For he remembers their sins in detail.
              Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
              Then when you pray
              Your own sins will be forgiven.
              Can anyone nourish anger against another
              And expect healing from the Lord?
              Can anyone refuse mercy to another…
              And seek pardon for his own sins?”
     Any way you read that, the author of those words, Jesus Ben Sirach, writing some 200 years before the time of Jesus the Christ, seems to be anticipating the teachings of Christ by holding up forgiveness and mercy – not retaliation - as the only way to respond to an unjust attack (“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, then when you pray your own sins will be forgiven”).

     You see why that reading was paired with today’s gospel. Peter’s question to Jesus (“How many times must I forgive, seven times?”) sprang from a heart that was willing to go well beyond the demands of strict justice. Peter probably thought he was being very generous - going overboard even - in his willingness to forgive a person as many as seven times (in Scripture, a number meaning infinity). But that wasn’t generous enough for Jesus. Jesus raised the ante, as he so often does. He challenged Peter to go beyond generosity – even to go beyond common sense.  He challenged him to go to the place where only faith can go.

     In saying to Peter, “not seven times but seventy-seven times,” Jesus was telling him that there is no limit to how many times a person is to forgive - that we are to forgive no matter how great the evil or how grave the injustice. And he went even further: he went beyond forgiveness carefully measured out based on the offender’s sorrow or willingness to make amends. Jesus made forgiveness a blank check we are to write, just as he did when he forgave his executioners from the cross.

     My friends, I realize that all of this can be hard to swallow in our personal relationships. It’s even harder when we project it onto the world scene and see, for instance, how we – not our government, but how we as individuals – respond to a grave evil like the terrorist attacks of 9/11. No doubt, our government had to respond in a way that limited further violence and protected national security, but what was our personal response? Did we join the voices of those who scapegoated an entire people, promoted religious intolerance, and passed on hate-filled propaganda about the Muslim faith as a violent religion bent on world domination? If that was our personal reaction – and if it still is – then we need to ponder closely today’s gospel parable.

     In the parable, the unforgiving servant who had sinned extravagantly was also forgiven extravagantly - “a huge amount.”  A more familiar and accurate translation renders that huge amount as “ten thousand talents” – maybe something over the top like a trillion dollars. So, we’re not just talking about “a huge amount” – we’re talking about a colossal amount. And Jesus says that we must be willing to forgive even something as great as that, and not once, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

     My friends in Christ, that is our challenge as followers of Christ, and a great challenge it is. It came to mind recently when I listened to Julia Blake, the mother of Jacob Blake, the young black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was shot in the back seven times by a white policeman and who is now paralyzed from the waist-down. In comments his mother made to the media, she said some remarkable words: “I’m praying for Jacob and I’m praying for the policeman, too,” she said. She then went on to ask for prayers not only for her son but for the healing of the nation. She may not have known it, but Julia Blake was giving a powerful homily on a Christian’s response to violence, on Christian forgiveness – a homily far more powerful and more real than any I could ever give.

     My friends, to follow Jesus Christ is to forgive. Seventy-seven times. Without limit. It’s to see things and to do things differently. I only wish I understood that as well as Julia Blake does. Happily, the Eucharist we are celebrating and are about to receive can help bring us to that place. 

Father Michael G. Ryan





Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303