Sep. 16, 2017

Twenty-Fourth Sunday

IF FORGIVENESS HURTS, ANGER HURTS MORE

Today, the wise Sirach brings to our awareness the challenges of anger and hatred in human relationships. He admonishes us on two things: First, let go of anger, retaliation and be ready to reconcile. Second, forgive your neighbor’s injustice, and you will be forgiven by God (Sir. 28:2). It sounds harsh for Sirach to say, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” (Sir. 27:30). Does that mean that anyone who gets angry is a sinner? No. Saint Paul says to the Ephesians, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph.4:26).

Do you get angry? Or maybe you know someone who struggles with anger?  What could be the cause? I was reading one Dawson’s blog and these are some responses people gave on what makes them angry:

Shawnee wrote: What makes me angry? Being ignored.

Ali wrote: Fake people and liars.

Jake wrote: Trying hard at something and failing.

Ashley wrote: I hate it when people criticize me and have no idea what I go through.

Michael wrote: Being nice to people, only to have them be mean to me.

Jane wrote: Not being able to control my emotions. 

I’m thinking that each of us can give similar responses to the same question. We get angry because we feel ignored, laid down, betrayed, cheated upon, threatened, falsely accused, negatively represented, denied our rights, experienced failure, etc. We also get angry because of financial, academic pressures (deadlines). We get angry from stress (traffic jams, sloppy services). We get angry because of physical pains (sickness, injury). We get angry due to the influence of alcohol, drugs (abuse). That means that variety of factors can lead to anger, and today we hear of anger management and therapy. 

If we look at the reasons why we get angry, we must pay attention to the fact that anger is not only an emotional problem, it can also be spiritual. Anger is emotional because it affects your feelings. You become sad, temperamental, over-reactive to issues around you. Anger has a deeper spiritual impact because it can lead to sin, to revenge and hatred. That’s the what the readings of today emphasize. While we seek therapy for anger management, we must seek spiritual help too, recognize how profound God’s forgiveness is to us. The Book of Sirach came close to Jesus’ teaching and example when he taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12). 

The gospel of today can be laid out in three dramatic scenes on forgiveness. Let’s call the guy that was forgiven by the master, Ken, and his colleague who owed him, Shawn. 

Scene 1: The king begins to tidy up his accounts. One of his major debtors, Ken, is brought to him. Ken owes him a huge amount of money. The king threatens to confiscate Ken and all his belongings including his family members to recover his money. Ken pleads for pardon. The king tells his army to free him. He forgives him thousands of dollars. 

Scene 2: Ken is joyful, goes out to celebrate his freedom in the company of his fellow servants. He remembers that his colleague, Shawn, owes him some money. His thinks that if Shawn paid him, he would have paid in something to his master earlier on. Perhaps, he would not have suffered humiliation at first. He therefore arrests Shawn, begins to torture him. But just like he did to the master, Shawn falls on his knees and begs to be forgiven. Ken refuses and insists, “Pay back what you owe, or I will make you suffer”. He throws Shawn into prison, in the presence of other fellow servants. The servants beg him to release Shawn but he refuse. They are unhappy. 

Scene 3: A set of servants appears before the king with greetings, “Long live the king. We have a report to make before you. Ken, whom you just let go is being mean. Do you know Shawn was owing him as well? The master says, “Yes, I do. But that was little compared to what he owed me. And that was part of the reason I let him go, so he could let Shawn go”. The servants say to him, “But Ken has arrested Shawn. Now, Shawn is in prison”. The master is mad at Ken. He orders them to go get Ken. Ken appears with his face on the ground, can’t look at the master because he is ashamed of his behavior. The master scolds him with the words, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” (Matt. 18:33). Scripture says, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt” (Matt. 18: 34). The master is angry in a good way. He uses his anger to teach the other servants lessons on forgiveness. 

If we go back to Peter’s question, “Lord, if my brother/sister sins against me, how often must I forgive?”, we notice the seeming challenge of forgiveness. As a Jew, Peter’s thought to follow the regular standard. The Jewish tradition places forgiveness at most three times. The prophet Amos pictures God punishing the foreign nations after only three offenses against him. Regarding Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom and Ammon, God says, “For their three crimes, I will not revoke my word” (Cf. Amos 1: 3-15).  In that sense, Peter is generous enough to offer, “As many as seven times?” Seven, for Peter signifies wholeness. However, Jesus raises the forgiveness bar so high, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times”. Can we really be that forgiving? What is Christ saying to us by that statement? Forgiveness has no limit. Forgiveness can hurt the forgiver. Forgiveness is divine. 

In today’s world, anger is real. There are lots of hurtful feelings. There are lots of reasons to be angry. Friendships become sour. Leadership gets more selfish. Couples feel angry for betrayal, lies, infidelity. Citizens of nations feel angry, frustrated. The powerful trample on the weak. Some employers act so mean and treat employees poorly. Parents feel terrible about children’s behavior. Children are upset with parents. Different questions are asked, “Should I forgive my ex-husband, ex-wife? Should I forgive my son? Should I forgive my colleague? Should I forgive the president, governor, or anyone in authority that says and does things that get me constantly upset?” The answer lies in today’s readings. The result of anger is frustration, excess drinking, feelings of vengeance. The solution is to look for anger management therapies. That’s fine. But let us know that anger hurts more than forgiveness. Forgiveness is the divine therapy which Christ offers. 

You can only be healed of anger if you get rid of it in your heart. The more it stays there, the less you become yourself. The more you feel anger, the more of a beast you become. Take your anger to Jesus, the greatest anger management therapist, who says to God on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). In the words of Saint Paul, I say to you, “No one lives for himself only, no one dies for himself only. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord” (Rom. 14:8). Recognize that you live for Jesus, and let him help you take care of the cause of your anger.

May the Lord clean up the anger in our hearts and heal us with his forgiveness. Amen.