Frank Sinatra’s career is forever marked by his signature song, “My Way.” Based on a popular French piece released in 1967, fellow singer Paul Anka wrote the English lyrics with Sinatra in mind. “My Way” became one of the most recorded popular songs of the twentieth century but was always connected to Sinatra. Anka remembers that he thought about Sinatra’s performance style and edgy way of living to craft words Anka himself never wanted to sing. Sinatra and his Rat Pack friends in Las Vegas epitomized the self-gratifying, me-generation culture run amuck. During that time Sinatra indulged in a lavish, boozy lifestyle, associating with the Mob and hard-living companions as the dark side of his phenomenal command of American popular song. Somehow, the lyrics of “My Way” slip right by us due to the sophisticated vocalizations of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Yet the text is horrific, boasting about self-absorption, utter disregard of anyone else, and a smug pleasure that life was done entirely “my way.” To Sinatra’s credit, he later regretted ever recording the song.
“My Way,” does, however, give us entry into this Sunday’s readings, even explaining, perhaps, why St. Matthew and St. Paul are so insistent on forgiveness and reconciliation. We, like the original hearers of the gospels and Paul’s letters, often allow wrongdoing and dirty dealing to slip right past us. Blind eyes refuse to see behavior we know is problematic. Must we be little soldiers for Christ 24/7? Is there no time-off for good behavior during our better moments? Sunday’s Romans passage is clear: 7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s [Romans 14:7-8]. Having died to sin and been raised to new life in Christ, we are forever [in other words, 24/7] bound to Christ and to God’s people. The Christian life is a life marked by practice, practice, practice, just like the many hours Sinatra, Anka, and other recording artists spend in the studio. We practice our entire lives learning to live in community. Folks, even those in love, differ in gifts and talents as well as likes and dislikes, for God did not create us identical little Barbie and Ken dolls. How well we negotiate the myriad differences between us, family, friends, and strangers reveals how important practice learning life’s give and take, forgiving and regrouping, actually is.
Matthew’s gospel [Mt 18:21-35] is both the complement to Paul’s letter and rather mystifying. The Apostle Peter, both rock and blockhead, asks a very appropriate question: Just how many times are we to forgive? When do we shake the dust off our feet and go, or, as in last Sunday’s gospel, try three times and call it quits? Peter’s query and our hope for a pragmatic answer appear frustrated by Jesus’ glib “seventy-seven times.” Then, Jesus launches into a parable about forgiving debts which seems to end in futility. A servant, recently forgiven a debt by a gracious master, turns around and throws another servant in prison for owing money to the first servant. The imprisoned servant is to remain incarcerated until the debt is paid – but how is repayment possible with the servant in jail? This is like the kingdom of heaven, we dare ask.
Jesus’ point may well be that none of us has any wiggle room in this matter. We ALL frequently find ourselves in the place of both the master and the slave throughout our lives. There will be times because of our many differences [Romans 14] when we find ourselves in disagreement. We’re sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Avoiding the offender and imprisoning ourselves in walls of righteous indignation only create stalemates — not a healthy way of living. “My way” or the highway leads to a lifetime of dead ends.
Not infrequently we find the Good News of God in Old Testament readings and the Psalms. Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers but who becomes great in Pharaoh’s court, is later reconciled with his brothers: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today…” [Genesis 50:15-21]. From the beginning God has searched us out, bound up our wounds, forgiven our offences, and restored us to the loving community of God’s calling. This is the reason the Psalmist sings: 8Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; …10You have not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us according to our iniquities [Psalm 103:8, 10]. And that, brothers and sisters, is why we practice doing it “God’s Way.”