13th Sunday after Pentecost
Common Lectionary Readings:
Rom. 14:1-12; Gen. 50:15-21; Ps. 103:1-13; Matt. 18:21-35
This week marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11. How much the world has changed in the past 10 years! More than 100,000 civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq – along with thousands of soldiers — have been killed in U.S.-led wars aimed at retaliating for the horrific 9/11 attacks. In an attempt to extract information — or perhaps simply to humiliate — U.S. military personnel have tortured hundreds of prisoners in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.
Some 4 million Iraqis have been uprooted from their homes. The wars have already cost well over $5 trillion dollars and are a key factor in the massive U.S. debt burden that weighs heavily on a faltering U.S. economy. Few could argue with a straight face that the world is more secure as a result of this display of military might.
An Iraqi Christian from Baghdad visited our office in Amman this week. He described the chaos and corruption that still define life for many in Iraq. Electricity is erratic (a huge problem when temperatures soar well over 120 F degrees – 50 C). Public funds disappear and government services are few. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts are frequent. A common tactic is to place a note with a bullet on an enemy’s doorstep, with a cryptic message, “You have seven days to leave!”
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about forgiveness.
In the Old Testament reading, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will retaliate against them for the grievous harm they did to him when he was a youth (Gen. 50:15-17). But Joseph sees the big picture. “Do not be afraid!” he reassures his brothers. “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people. . .” (vv. 19-20)
The psalmist describes God’s many benefits to us, beginning with forgiving our iniquities (Ps. 103:3). “(God) does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” writes the psalmist, rather, “as far as the east is from the west, so far (God) removes our transgressions from us.” (v.12)
In the Epistle reading, Paul urges that we not pass judgment on one other due to our differing dietary and religious practices. (Rom. 14:10), Rather, we are to extend space for our sisters and brothers to honor God according to their own convictions.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of master who forgives his servant a huge sum of money. But immediately after receiving this tremendous gift of forgiveness, the servant refuses to forgive a man who owes him a much smaller sum of money, instead throwing him in prison. (Matt. 18:23-30) The master responds in anger, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” (v.33)
Our forgiveness of others is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us. Forgiveness is hard enough to practice in individual relationships. Is it even possible for nations to forgive? At a minimum, the high cost of retaliation should lead nations to look for alternative ways to respond.
Below is a reflection that Daryl wrote the day after 9/11, when we were living in Washington, D.C.
An eye for an eye?
by J. Daryl Byler
September 11, 2001. It is the day that sheared a gaping hole in a prominent city’s skyline and seared a profound sense of peril on a powerful nation’s psyche.
It will be remembered as a day of horror and shock. U.S. commercial airliners — hijacked and used as guided missiles — smashed into America’s most prestigious financial and military symbols in New York and Washington, D.C.
Towering steel skyscrapers tumbled before our eyes like a child’s building blocks. The Pentagon’s portly walls were penetrated as if made of cardboard. Suddenly the world’s military and economic superpower seemed helpless and vulnerable.
No one will soon forget where they heard the startling news.
I received word of unfolding events just as former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross finished his remarks about what went wrong with the Middle East Peace process. A crowded roomful of people – already pondering the Middle East crisis — filed out onto Washington’s streets in hushed whispers.
As I walked past the White House and back to the MCC Washington Office on Capitol Hill, smoke billowed from the Pentagon to the south. Stunned workers spilled out of downtown office buildings onto packed sidewalks. Emergency vehicles, sirens wailing, slowly snaked through rush hour gridlock.
Rumors spread quickly. More attacks were underway. “Another plane has just hit the White House!” a woman shouted mistakenly. “This is the end times!” one man declared to another. Everywhere people talked on cell phones to assure loved ones that they were okay. Yesterday’s hot political debate about budget deficits suddenly seemed irrelevant.
The nation will never be the same. The country’s worst nightmare has happened. Thousands of innocent lives snuffed out in a single morning. Even if it never happens again, Americans now live with a clearer picture of what is possible.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will all grieve the incredible loss of life. We will all feel more vulnerable and cautious. We will also rightly feel anger. Indeed, such violent acts of terror are inexcusably wrong.
But as calls for retaliation roll off the tongues of military and political leaders, it is important to ask whether retaliation will make us more secure or less.
In his remarks spoken while horror reigned from the skies, Ambassador Dennis Ross lamented the futile cycle of violence, retaliation and counter-retaliation in the Middle East during the last 11 months. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians feel more secure as a result. He suggested a more hopeful path forward — based on the practice of justice and a commitment to nonviolence.
Indeed, thousands of years ago already, Jesus cautioned against the “eye for an eye” philosophy (Matthew 5:38-48). He pointed to a new way of security rooted in our trust in God and our concern for all, including those that make us feel afraid.
Many have warned for years that American arrogance and global domination could lead to a day like September 11. I pray that we will not use this tragedy as an opportunity for retaliation but, rather, as an occasion to reflect on what truly makes for global security.
Through the judicial process — not through military retaliation or declarations of war — let us seek to bring justice to those who perpetrated the horrendous slaughter of September 11. But let us also recommit ourselves to do justice in our global relationships. It is the only chance for building a more secure future.