The gospel today contains a rubric for the Eucharist. Rubrics are directions in the official book that we use for mass. They are printed in red ink. Most rubrics come from Liturgists…experts who tell us how mass must be celebrated. But, this rubric comes from Jesus Himself. Listen to it again….If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you. Leave your gift at the altar…go first to be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus is simply saying that worship must change us…otherwise, it is an empty show. When we come to mass, the first thing we do is confess our sins against God and each other. It would be strange if after doing this…we continued to have ill thoughts against each other. We turn to each other at the sign of peace and wish each other the peace of Christ…but, does that peace last?
Does it last until the parking lot or the dinner table? We receive Communion and the Lord who warns us not to offer our gifts if we still bear grievances could also warn us not to receive the gift. The gift of His body unless we are willing to be in communion with each other. A man once told me how he had wronged his brother. And he desperately wanted to make amends, to patch things up. But, the wronged brother would have none of it. He refused any attempt at coming together.
The man said of his brother, “He became the prisoner of what I had done to him.” I am sure that some of us can testify to that statement from our own experience. We all know people, or perhaps, ourselves who refuse to go to a party. Because they might meet so and so with whom they have a grievance. Or the refusal to share a family reunion even to go to the funeral. Because of some wound inflicted, perhaps, long ago by a family member. In some cases, resentment is so great that we cannot even eat or sleep.
Angry thoughts follow us to bed and invade our dreams. And those words become so true. We become prisoners of what someone did to us. We tend to forget that we are followers of Jesus who taught us to pray. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. We have been reflecting on just a single sentence in today’s gospel. Trying to turn it into a word of life, a life worth living, the Christ Life. But, sometimes this brings on discouragement.
We can fall into the trap of thinking we are not good enough to come to the altar. We think that we will never be patient, free of anger, resentment and dark thoughts. Our confession of these failings runs on from childhood to old age. We must be patient with ourselves with our trying. And, we must be honest with ourselves knowing that we need the grace of God to do anything good. Without it, we might as well try to raise flowers or a field of wheat without the sun. No one ever said that a single sermon, a single line in the gospel.
Or even a blunt directive from Jesus is going to change us. Make us saints overnight. But, we have to have the desire to change. The willingness to let God’s grace work in our lives. Acknowledging the reality of our sinfulness, while also acknowledging the reality of God’s love for us. A love that keeps reaching out to us in spite of our faults and our sins. It is a love that keeps urging us to try to do better. How many times shall I forgive, Lord? Seven times? No seventy times seven….was the Lord’s reply.
Let us be sure that we are not held prisoner by what someone else has done to us. Let us recall the words of our first reading. If you wish, you can keep the commandments. To behave faithfully is within your power. He has set fire and water before you, put your hand to whichever you prefer. Set before you are life and death, choose life, the life of Christ.