A reflection for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sister Chioma Ahanihu, S.L.W. reflects on the readings for September 17, 2023.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year A):

Sirach 27:30 – 28:7
Psalms 103:1 – 2, 3 – 4, 9 – 10, 11 – 12
Romans 14:7 – 9
Matthew 18:21 – 35

Reflection: How often must I forgive?

The theme in today’s first reading and gospel is that of forgiveness and mercy in relationships. As human beings that live in communities, we often confront issues that may lead to conflict, and sometimes result in an exchange of words, fighting and quarreling, even the loss of life. People feel offended, and some want to avenge the ills committed against them. Peace in the community is broken; thus, rituals of reconciliation to heal the wounds that cause disunity in the community are deeply needed.

In a certain community, a conflict arose so severe that it split the community into two separate communities. This happened over 40 years ago, so by now a generation has passed, yet the fallout of this conflict has still been affecting the relationships among the current adult children of the community. There was fear that the next generation might be affected if nothing were done to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation.

Members of this community, especially the younger generations, began to seek peace and reconciliation among the two groups as they shared the same culture and tradition, which hold them together as one. The groups sought forgiveness and mercy from one another in order to heal from their parents’ hurts, which had been transferred to them.


In my Igbo culture, a few structures are required for a reconciliation ritual to take effect as those in damaged communities seek healing. First, there needs to be a structure of communal living among the people desiring forgiveness and mercy from each other. There must be a pattern of dialogue, where both parties bring up their points and rub shoulders in order to rub off rough edges. Also, they need a structure of rites and active participation that heals the wounds and helps the community rediscover its purpose. And finally, they require a healing celebration format that is the result of dialogue and communal living.

One symbol of true healing, in Igbo culture, is the presentation of Oji (a kola nut), which is served to commence the healing celebration. The Oji is a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The Igbo people hold it so sacrosanct that no matter the level of misunderstanding existing within and among any group, once the individuals partake of the consumption of the Oji, the misunderstanding can easily be settled. The purpose of Oji is to bring peace among individuals and people in conflict. 

We may turn to Jesus like Peter and ask him: Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? The answer that Jesus gives us today provides a template that is like a rolling wheel of Igbo ways of solving their differences. It is a nonstop forgiveness process that involves active participation in dialogue and the intentional seeking of healing for the common good of the community and of individuals.

As human beings who like to count how many times our sisters or brothers wrong us, we will give up counting to seventy-seven. It gives us hope to keep striving our best to promote a loving community life despite the challenges we face. Let us keep on breaking and eating the metaphorical kola nuts with our offenders while praying for them. Let us count on God’s grace to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, mercy, and interconnectedness. Remembering that our actions should reflect God’s love and grace, especially in our relationships with others, helps us show compassion to one another.

About the author

Sister Chioma Ahanihu, S.L.W.

Sr. Chioma Ahanihu, S.L.W., is a member of the Sisters of the Living Word. She is the director for the Center for the Study of Consecrated Life at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

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