September 13, 2020; Sirach 27:30-28:7; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We live in a contentious world. We live in a society where the differences between people are growing wider and louder. When we disagree with someone, it is becoming the common practice not only to state our opinion but to tear down or attack the person who disagrees with us. Civility and respect for one’s opponent are quickly set aside.
I wonder how many of us here live with anger on a daily basis, carrying it around with us as we go through our routines. How often does the anger within us burn in our gut, waiting to explode when someone crosses us? The anger can come from a variety of sources. We can be angry because someone we trusted and loved turned on us or slighted us. The anger tells us never to speak to that person again. We can be angry because of an economic situation, because we feel that things are stacked up against us and the know-it-alls at work do not respect us or value our contributions. The anger within us waits for the time when they will be put in their place. We can be angry because of the polarization of our political situation. “The Democrats are crazy.” “The Republicans are out of their minds.” We follow the media with knots in our stomach waiting for the next politician to say some senseless thing.
The anger is killing us, and yet we will not let it go. The author of the Book of Sirach understands this. In today’s first reading he says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, but the sinner hugs them tight.” Even though it drains our energy, compromises our effectiveness, and makes us miserable, we continue to feed our anger to make it grow.
So what can be done to break this destructive pattern? We need a new perspective, and Sirach offers us one. He says, “Remember your last days, and set enmity aside.” What would happen to your anger if you were just told you have two weeks to live? Would you call up a person who hurt you or your boss at work and tell them how much you hate them? Would you run out to put a bigger political sign on your lawn? Maybe. But Sirach is betting that you would not. Sirach is betting that when we realize that we will all die, when we recognize our own mortality, anger can slip away. When we see how few days we have left and how valuable each of those days are, Sirach is betting that we will choose peace over rage, love over hate, and forgiveness over anger. Remembering our own mortality reminds us that we too are sinners, we too have hurt others, we too have been wrong on many occasions. When we remember our mortality, it gives us room to let go of anger, to let go of pride, and discover a way to be patient with others.
Now, God willing, for most of us death is not around the corner. But it is still valuable to remember our mortality. By doing so we can find the freedom to let go of anger and to live whatever days we have left in peace, forgiveness, and joy.