Sunday, September 17, 2023

Beyond the Frying Pan & the Fire

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:9; Psalm 102 (103):1-4, 9-12; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

Picture: By Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

My dear friends, what does it feel like to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire? To try to avoid a bad situation, only to end up in an even worse one. Such as when someone changes jobs on impulse, perhaps to spite an unreasonable boss, only to find that the new boss is much worse. Bad idea, right? But does this mean then that whenever I encounter a bad boss, I should just keep quiet and suck it up?

Jumping out of the frying pan, only to fall into the fire. Doesn’t this sound like what the scriptures are warning us against? The first reading tells us that resentment and anger… are foul things… On its own, of course, anger isn’t sinful. It’s our natural reaction to being hurt. Our way of coping with pain. Consciously or not, when someone or something hurts me or mine, rather than simply suffer the pain, I focus instead on the anger. But it’s possible to take this natural reaction too far. To nurse the anger, as I might a stiff drink. To cherish the resentment. To let them flow outward into vengeance, or inward into depression.

When I try to jump out of the frying pan of pain by clinging to my anger, the anger itself becomes a deadly fire that consumes me. For anger doesn’t just numb my pain, it also makes me forget some important truths, about myself and about God. I forget that I am not the almighty Creator, but only a fragile creature, for whom pain is an unavoidable part of being human. I also lose touch with the Lord, who is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

But does this mean then that whenever I or those I care about are hurt, I should just stay silent and suck it up? Simply try to forget the hurt? Is this what I should do if, for example, I suspect that my kids are being abused by their teacher? Certainly not. On the contrary, what the readings call us to do is not to forget, but to remember. To remember not just our own creaturely fragility, but also and especially, how tenderly our Creator looks at and treats us. Seeing fit even to take on our human condition, sharing our pain, even suffering death on the Cross for us. So that, whether we live or die, we now all belong to Christ. Who always remains present and accessible to us. And who, by his Dying and Rising, transforms our pain into a crucible of life in God’s kingdom.

Of course, in practice, for us to feel the effects of this transformation will usually take time. Which is what both the debtors in the gospel beg from their creditor. Give me time. But it will be time well spent. For to recall the mysteries of our faith in this way, as we do whenever we gather for Mass, is to let the Spirit heal and broaden the horizons of our hearts. Enabling us to gaze beyond the narrow options of retaliation and apathy, to consider what the Lord might be calling and empowering us to do, here and now, for the greater good.

Sisters and brothers, what shall we do to better allow our merciful God to transform the frying pan of our pain into a true crucible of eternal life today?

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