These past few weeks, the United States has been battered by events of cataclysmic proportions. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the Equifax data breach have shoved tit-for-tat political headlines out of the limelight. Compelling, community-driven stories abound, whether it’s the quirky tenacity of Key West residents, a moving letter from the mayor of New Orleans, or Beyoncé volunteering in her hometown.
For those of us without connections to the South, the events could seem distant, and beyond the sphere of immediate concern, a matter of sympathetic thoughts, $20 donations, and passing prayers. For residents, however, the aftermath can stretch far into the future.
If we’re not careful, this Sunday’s readings can likewise be received as a distant armchair witness. The first reading and Gospel are clear in their call to forgive and to expunge emotional debts. It’s easy enough to nod our heads sagely, note the lesson in neighborliness, and switch to the next channel.
But sometimes wrongs hit with gale-force winds. Sometimes the sins of others uproot our sense of self or our perspective of the world. Sometimes our better selves are flooded out by hurt and shame. When we’re on the receiving end of a cataclysmic fault, something is different. The call to forgive and move on can feel overwhelming, the daunting task of reconstructing a city on uneven, marshy ground. For those in the aftermath of hurricane-force sin, the recovery process is not easy. Forgiveness takes time.
Some of us are near indeed to those affected by life-altering flooding. Others of us feel the effects only through our common humanity. But it is very likely that we are all near to someone brokenhearted. Perhaps it’s us.
Whatever our storm, Jesus’ invitation is not an easy one. His call to forgive seventy-seven times is, on the one hand, classic Jewish hyperbole to convey a point. Seven is a number associated with perfection and God himself. On the other hand, it’s very practical advice. Disaster recovery efforts lay one brick at a time. For those of us in the aftermath of a spiritual or emotional storm, this process too proceeds gradually, with one act of forgiveness after another.
The Sunday readings also remind us that we are not alone. After a natural disaster, relief funds and generous donors quickly send millions of dollars to the affected areas. The second reading puts it this way: “We are the Lord’s.” We do not belong to the devastated state that the sins of others seem to have left us in. We belong to God.
This week, let us recall that sin and destruction do not have the last say! Jesus weeps over our wounds and he doesn’t abandon us to our tragedies. The Father’s love is superabundant. Like a storm-battered city, we can receive his aid. We can allow the Holy Spirit to allocate the grace where we need it the most so healing can begin.
Bless the LORD, my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, my soul;
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion,
Who fills your days with good things,
so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger, abounding in mercy.
For as the heavens tower over the earth,
so his mercy towers over those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
Bless the LORD, my soul!
—Psalm 103:1-5, 8, 11-12, 22