The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 5 September 2021
The readings the lectionary prescribes for this Sunday are as follows:
1 Corinthians 9:2–12; Matthew 18:23–35
Here is a summary of the two readings, as the beginning of reflection:
1 Corinthians 9:2–12 The Corinthians made different demands of Paul and Barnabas than they did of other Christian preachers. Paul defended himself and his cousin by pointing out that, although they were entitled to material rewards from those to whom they ministered spiritually, they did not exercise this right, lest they become a hindrance to the Gospel.
Matthew 18:23–35 Jesus taught a parable of the kingdom of heaven. A king settled accounts with his subjects. One who owed him ten thousand talents implored him and was forgiven his debt. But upon meeting a fellow-servant who owed him far less—a hundred denarii—the servant whose debt had been forgiven did not forgive his own debtor and instead sent him to prison. On hearing about this injustice, the king decided to imprison the ungrateful servant. We all should wholeheartedly forgive one another so that we do not stir the Father’s sense of justice.
The message of this Sunday emerges at the crossing of the two readings. Before grasping the message, a brief reflection on the readings is in order, by which we explore their common denominators:
Wisdom The parable is applicable to all walks of life. When we benefit from another’s compassion, we should not only rejoice. We should learn the lesson of kindness and repay it in kind by doing the same for others. We must become spiritual bread for all others. But strictly speaking the parable teaches a wisdom lesson for how Christians ought to behave. Christianity is not about religiosity; it is about goodness. True Christians illustrate goodness in everyday life. The parable illustrates this difference. The first servant, legalistic and religious, was a merciless beneficiary of mercy. Yet the king wished his merciful lesson to be learnt, not just received. If he learnt the lesson of forgiving, merciful love, the servant would have become a Christian. He failed to do so and thus remained religious and legalistic—convinced of his rights and exclusively concerned with protecting his own interests. However, considered together with the apostolic letter the Lord’s parable comes in sharper focus. In the vein of the previous two Sundays, where the profile of the Christian minister was painted so dramatically, today’s readings point to the challenges of ministering to people. Ministry is awesome, but pity the shepherd who has to deal with people. Believers, we read in the apostolic passage, have different expectations from their ministers. Inequity and double standards are not infrequent. This causes much distress to the shepherds who, while honestly trying, cannot live up to the high expectations of the flock. Against this backdrop, the parable teaches that people should be mindful that their compassionate Lord is also Lord to their spiritual guides. And they should be merciful, not merciless when their shepherds fail to live up to their expectations—particularly when the personal weaknesses of the shepherds do not hinder their selfless ministry to the people. And so, the lesson of forgiving love is served to all, ministers and ministered alike.
It is in this light that we can pinpoint the message of this Sunday, which we can further use for personal and ecclesial meditation:
Message Christians should forgive as they are forgiven, so that they may comfort one another as God comforts all.
The materials rendered above are excerpted from Doru Costache, Reading Scripture in the Orthodox Church: The Sunday Cycle (Sydney: AIOCS Press, 2018) 48–50. The book is available in print and in digital formats.
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