Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 11, 2011 – St. John’s, Goshen
We all know where we were ten years ago today, ten years ago from this very moment that finds us gathered here as a Church. Many observers have noted that the commemoration of the terrorist attacks on the United States has two dimensions: as a memorial service for those who were killed, it may renew sentiments of grief and sadness, but as a remembrance of those who first responded with courage and heroism, it rekindles sentiments of gratitude and reverence. There was heroic beauty even in the horrible ugliness.
Now, as then, we Christians might more readily recognize the two-fold character of this event. After all we gather as a Church under the sign of the cross, the sign that was etched on our foreheads at baptism, the sign we make over ourselves at the beginning and end of our worship. The ugly instrument of a tortured execution has been transformed into something we willingly embrace as the symbol of our religion. Transformed how? By the beauty of a love stronger than death. St. Augustine once recalled two verses from the Old Testament which appeared to contradict each other. Speaking in prophecy of Christ, one said that there was no beauty in the Servant of the Lord (Is 53:2), the other that he was more beautiful than all the sons of men (Ps 44:3). Both were true, Augustine said. But where was the beauty to be found? “What it that we love in Christ?” he asked. “His crucified limbs? His pierced side? Or his love? When we hear that he suffered for us, what do we love? It’s his love that we love. He loved us so that we would love him in return, and so that we might love him in return, he has come to us with his Spirit.”
The final verbal expression of that love were Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” We Christians gratefully live under the assurance of that last prayer of Christ, the assurance that we are among those for whom Christ prayed and continues to pray. The ugly cross, made beautiful by Christ’s love, was the price that he was willing to pay to redeem us from the immense debt of our sins, the extravagant debt freely forgiven in today’s Gospel parable. That parable urges us, as we breathe in the fresh air of this unmerited freedom and look about us in a world defined by such extravagant generosity, not to forget how we became free and instead to respond accordingly as we encounter our fellow human beings. And to act according to the cross means to be willing to forgive the debts, trivial by comparison, that they may owe to us. Forgiven, how can we not forgive?
In the days after 9/11 people were urged to go about their business as usual because otherwise, as it was said, “The terrorists have won.” Well we Christians ought to go about our business as usual, where “as usual” means thinking and speaking and acting in imitation of Christ. But if hatred and revenge were to rule us, then indeed the terrorists would have won and won the war on the battlefield of our own minds and hearts.
Evil experienced need not be the chief thing we remember about September 11, 2001. We can remember also the terrible beauty of the first responders, their acts of heroism, the way in which they fulfilled Christ’s words, “Greater love than this no one has than that he lay down his life for his friends”–a saying that he, of course, was the first to fulfill. In other words we can place the whole experience we sum up in the numbers “9/11″ also in the light of our faith and can dedicate ourselves to the reconciliation and peace that have been the dominant theme of the Gospel readings for the last two weeks.