9/11/11: Not 7 Times But 77

Busy summers kept Gen and I away from the blog, but hearing recently about my sister’s new school year made me feel like a fresh start. No better night than tonight.

But I don’t feel like any more words. There have been too many words and slideshows, retrospective TV programs and concerts. The unending media coverage of 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks replays loud and jumbled in my head like a frantic fever-dream.

So where new words seem pointless, a handful of old words read at churches all over the world today prove chillingly timely and a little foreboding.

Today’s first reading, from Sirach:

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

And the Gospel reading, from Matthew:

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times…”

Then, at the end of Jesus’s following parable about a servant who does not forgive another’s debt, after his own debt had been forgiven:

“…His master summoned him and said to him, ‘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?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

The readings for today were set long ago, without 9/11 in mind, but the radical challenge they present hits home on this anniversary.

Not only does discipleship require forgiveness when transgressions seem unforgivable, but failure to forgive elicits the wrath of God in a unique way.

In a speech tonight, President Obama said that no one who would do the country harm would be able to escape “justice,” at our own hands. When is it justice, and when is it revenge?

I have more questions:

What does God think of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and covert violence in neighboring countries? How does God feel about the summary execution of Osama bin Laden? What will I, as a silent consenter to all of it, have to say for myself when I meet God face to face? Will I be held accountable? Will I be cut some slack? Am I misapplying the Scripture because I see everything through the lens of my own time?

Who knows. But today’s readings must give us some pause. At the very least, they reminded me on this solemn day that when reflecting on things like terrorism and death and war and memory, question marks are important.


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