Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday 17th September (Ordinary 24)

Psalm 103 : 8-13; Exodus 14 : 19–31; Romans 14 : 1 – 12; Matthew 18 : 21 – 35

The reflection for this week is by Local Preacher, Naomi Sharp.

Memorisation has gone out of fashion a bit, since we’ve had access to a vast cyber-scape of information at the tips of our fingers, hasn’t it? Did you grow up memorising poems, or dates at school? And what about Scripture? Perhaps someone in your family had a “Promise Box” – a small box with scores of tiny tubes of rolled up paper with Bible verses printed on them, reminders of God’s goodness and an aid to memory. Or perhaps like me, you were incentivised to learn memory verses at Sunday school by the reward of colourful stickers.

A friend of mine was promised by his father, that when he could recite the whole of Psalm 103 (today’s lectionary Psalm) he would be given his very own Bible. (He did it!) It is a great choice of Psalm to commit to memory because it draws such clear picture of the character of God, and of his forgiving, compassionate nature.

The book Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney, featuring a nutbrown hare, has become something of a modern phenomenon. But its conclusion, I love you right up to the moon and back, sounds very ancient to me. Consider the description of God’s love in Psalm 103.11: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him. Both the book and the Psalm measure love by height, but the Psalm also gives a comparative measurement using horizontal distance. As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. (verse 12). God’s forgiveness is as wide as God’s love is high. Wow…

The Psalm makes much of God’s forgiveness and mercy, based on God’s understanding of human weakness and frailty. Unlike love, however, forgiveness is not a popular theme today. (I can’t think of any children’s books along the lines of this verse). Perhaps this is because forgiveness seems so much harder, or maybe because there is a fear of letting someone “get away with it?” I’m not sure. Jesus certainly challenges Peter. Should he forgive someone seven times? (a big number). “No,” Jesus replies, “I tell you, seventy-seven times” (a number so big you’d lose track).

Psalm 103 describes how love and forgiveness are bound together in God’s character. Maybe we could think about how we might reflect that character, both aspects of it. ‘The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,’ (Psalm 103.8) Alleluia!

Merciful and gracious God,

God who doesn’t treat us as we really deserve,

but so much better,

we adore you.

May we grow more like you in our willingness to love,

in our desire to forgive,

and our ability to do them both.

Through Jesus, our loving, forgiving Saviour, Amen.