13th August. Thursday, Week 19

Feast: Ss Pontian, Hippolytus and Fachtna (see below)

1st Reading: Jos 3:7-10, 11, 13-17

Carrying the Ark into the Jordan allowed the people cross safely

The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-19:1

The pardoned official who was harsh to his debtors

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.


Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, martyrs; also of St Fachtna, bishop.

Pontian and Hippolytus (2nd-3rd century) both suffered martyrdom through being sent to hard labour in the mines of Sardinia, in the persecution under emperor Maximian in the year 235. One had been pope for five years, the other an antipope for 18. They died reconciled. Their bodies were brought back to Rome and buried as martyrs. Hippolytus had been a rigorist who fought for an ideal Church composed only of pure souls separated from the world. He and his group remained in schism through the term of three popes. His writings are our main source for knowledge of the Roman liturgy and the structure of the Church around 200 A.D. Fachtna of Tulachteann, Co. Cork (6th century), established the monastic school of Rosscarberry. Before that was one of the pupils of Saint Ita, and founded a monastery (Molana) on an island in the Blackwater, near Youghal. He is patron saint of the diocese of Ross

A change of heart

In the first six chapters, Joshua’s story is modelled on episodes in the career of Moses. Parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea and the sanctification of the people before Mount Sinai (Josh 3:5; Exod 15; 19:10-14), the celebration of Passover (Josh 5:10; Exod 12), the manna (Josh 5:12; Exod 16:4) and the appearance of the Lord (Josh 5:13-15; Exod 3:13) all emphasise continuity of leadership. Still, the modeling of Joshua on Moses is not slavish or total, but adaptive to the new situation. The manna ceases; and circumcision which was neglected in Moses’ day is reinstituted.

The crossing of both the Red Sea and the River Jordan must be applied to our own lives, and in this we are helped by the evangelist Matthew, through parables on how to handle difficult moments in our life. Perhaps the most difficult “crossing” of all is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often must we do so? we ask. We do not like the answer, “seventy times seven times.” So Jesus tells the story of the One who forgave us a very serious debt — so how are we unable to forgive the debts of our neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying dynamic is not “justice” but as in the parable, being moved with pity. We are questioned by this parable: How far can others appeal to our patience? Here is a major “River Jordan” to cross – the need for patience with debtors who have not cooperated up to now or have delayed payment. This parable is not about some optional higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: My heavenly Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.

Matthew concludes with a statement of Jesus’ moving on, his typical way of ending a major section of his gospel. This parable on heroic forgiveness ends the great section on discipleship.


Learning to forgive

Learning to forgive those who have hurt us is one of life’s great challenges. Peter’s question comes from that sense of how difficult it is to forgive someone, “How often must I forgive my brother?” The implication is that there has to be a limit to forgiveness. Deciding to err on the generous side, Peter suggests seven times as often enough. In the biblical culture of that time, seven was considered to be a generous and  complete number. To forgive seven times is great forgiveness; surely, no more could be asked of one. Yet, Jesus does ask more, not seven times, but seventy seven times. Let there be no limit to our forgiveness. Jesus underpins this challenging call with the parable about the servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. This was a massive amount, equivalent to billions of euro today. Like the Greek debt to EU banks, it simply could never be paid back. In the parable the master felt so sorry for his servant that he simply cancelled the debt. Here we have the triumph of grace over strict justice. There is an image here of the gracious and generous ways of God. Jesus reveals a God whose mercy triumphs over justice. The most memorable image of such a God is the father  of the prodigal son. The remainder of the parable in today’s gospel tells us that the mercy that God freely pours into our lives should flow through us to touch others. This is what the servant who was forgiven failed to do. Another saying of Jesus expresses the message of today’s parable very succinctly, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” [Martin Hogan]

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