Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:21-35
September 17, 2017

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
Whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price,
No amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
Those who fear God will find them.

(Sirach 6:14-16)

There are a great many references in Sacred Scripture to the extremely important human relationship we almost casually refer to as “friendship.” There are reminders, such as the passage above, to the blessings of a good and faithful friend. On the other hand, there are also warnings about the dangers to be had from false friendships. It’s easy to see what inspired St. Thomas Aquinas to write: There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.

I remember the day when the above passage from Sirach was included in Morning Prayer. It touched me in an unusual way. Rather than rejoicing in the enormous treasury of good and faithful friends with which I am blessed, I began to examine my conscience and reflect on the times that I have been undeserving of all the goodness and joy these “true friends” bring into my life.

If one is honest with oneself, it doesn’t take long to remember times when we have done or failed to do something for a “good and faithful friend.” When my reflection was complete, as a self-imposed penance, I forwarded the Sirach passage to a number of folks who are, indeed, my “true friends.” I didn’t add any thought or explanation or greeting, just the Bible passage.

To my great surprise, almost everyone responded in kind. Not with another Scripture passage, but with an expression of gratitude, followed by something akin to an apology for not living up to the accolade. Those replies made me even more confident that these people are…TRUE FRIENDS!

The fact of the matter is, no one is a perfect friend. I can say this with certainty, because we all suffer from the vestiges of original sin. Our inherited guilt leaves us too self-centered to be totally selfless. And so, to one degree or another, we are always letting others down and putting our own interests first, easily excusing or justifying our transgressions. But, at the same time, and because of our inherent “self-centeredness,” we set the bar very high for others.

This is where forgiveness comes into play. Forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics. It should be a state of awareness, wherein we are continually coming to terms with human frailties…our own, and those with whom we are in a relationship, whatever the nature of the relationship might be. At Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus is clearly encouraging us to overpower our selfish nature with the superior power of forgiveness. The teaching is supported by a parable that reinforces the reality that there are often severe repercussions in withholding forgiveness of a TRUE FRIEND. And, in those cases where a relationship is not “true, nor a sturdy shelter, draining rather than a treasure, life-threatening rather than a spiritual and emotional medicine,” our First Reading is especially helpful. Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hangs on to them. Remember your last days…hate not your neighbor. To quote an expression that has become most popular: Let it go! Let the relationship go as well as the anger, resentment, and desire for revenge. Forgive and forget!

The Good News in all of this is that, in spite of our own failures, we have the truest and most loving of friends. Our relationship with the Lord was described in a poem written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven, an Irish immigrant to Canada. Set to music at a later date, it still has the power to soften the hardest of hearts.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit.
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Do the friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
And you will find a solace there!

If you happen to have trouble “forgiving”…“Take it to the Lord in prayer!”