Sunday Reflection - 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Posted: Sat, 19 Feb 2022 05:57
Today we come to the true heart of what it means to truly love, according to the vision of Jesus. It is a call to love—above and beyond! It is a love that can be challenging, as it calls on each of us to rise above our petty squabbles and more serious disputes. It is a challenging love as it asks us to love those we might find hard to show compassion for:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
For those of us who have been deeply hurt by others, it is so hard to embrace the enemy—the one, at whose hands we might experience cruelty and pain. Like me, you might find it hard to love the one who has turned your life upside down. However, while we might not forget the deep trauma, if we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we must embrace this command to love. As with all gospel teaching, we are not in a position to pick and choose those bits that we like.
There are amazing incidents of forgiveness in the most trying of circumstances. I am still moved by the story of the concentration camp inmate, Ruth who was freed by the allies in the last World War. She suffered indignity and terrible cruelty at the hands of a vicious female guard. Now the tables were turned: she was a free woman, and this vile guard was being held by a group of inmates. Ruth was handed a knife and given the opportunity to get her revenge: knife in hand and staring into the arrogant evil eyes of this guard, she dropped the knife and walked away. Ruth realised that if she used the knife, she would be stooping down to the level of this guard in a mindless act of violence. Evil cannot be met by more evil—Ruth never forgot her suffering and pain, but was adamant that she wanted to be part of a solution for peace and not continue the mindless violence promoted by evil. It was a similar reaction to that of the great Nelson Mandela as he walked free from the South African prison system after decades of incarceration, and a global campaign against apartheid. His words are a powerful message to each of us who are still prisoners of our own past hurts and issues:
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.
The call to forgive cannot be ignored. Using typical Semitic exaggeration, Jesus uses examples that should make us sit up and reflect on the demands that the gospel has to make on each of us:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
Love releases the tremendous energy that is found within each of us—extraordinary love is to be discovered in our ordinary lives. The power of love is greater than any power of evil. Showing mercy is stronger and more God-like than vengeance. It is much easier to point the finger and judge: if we do not like someone, it is all too easy to make their lives difficult. It need not be actions that can objectively be seen as wicked—sometimes passive aggression can be more invidious and hurtful.
What Jesus asks for is compassion not vengeance. People will make mistakes and get things wrong, yet I only have to look at the mirror and see that I need not blame anyone else. I am all too human and, as I hear the cry to forgive in today's gospel, am I ready to seek forgiveness for the wrongs that I have committed too? The simple, but difficult, command of Jesus is to love with no hope of return. It is an impossible ideal, but something we need to work towards. As a Church, we need to be agents of compassion that can transform our world, as Thomas Merton reminds us, we do this together:
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB