FORGIVENESS IS AN ACT OF LOVE
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
My dear encountered couples:
Where there is sin, there are enemies. All of us have or have had enemies. When people sin, they threaten our peace and hurt us. That makes us angry and we make them our enemy. There are those who hurt us by polluting our atmosphere, those who by their violence force us to live in fear, and those who threaten the peace of the world. We also make enemies of those who insult us, those who cheat us in some way, those who don’t hold the same opinions and beliefs we have. And we can even make God our enemy when we misunderstand and misinterpret life’s pain and sufferings as coming from God. What is the proper response to all this anger and frustration and hurt?
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us the proper response is love. We are to love without exception, even our enemies. It is a central teaching of Jesus and at the heart of his message about God’s reign in the world. God wants all people to live in unity and peace with one another as children of this one God. And the way to love in a sinful world is to forgive. Forgiveness is an act of love.
Forgiveness is to be extended to the three parties that we make our enemy: ourselves, others, God. First, forgiveness is to be shown toward ourselves. We often fail to reach the goals that we set for ourselves. We do something bad and stupid at times, and sometimes we are selfish. And don’t like ourselves. We live in past guilt and hurts. Yet God forgives and accepts us as we are and enables us to grow beyond our present sinfulness. We, too, must forgive and accept ourselves.
Many people are lonely and depressed today because of the “law of the echo,” which says that you get back from life exactly what you give to life. There was once a woman who wrote that at one point of her life she was confined to a mental hospital. Her stay in the hospital extended from days to weeks as her depression deepened. It was while in this mental state that the woman happened to see a notice on the hospital bulletin board. It read, “Volunteers needed in geriatrics.”
In her own words, the woman wrote: “Why I responded is known only to God, but it was God’s will to bring me back to life. Each day spent with the geriatric patients awakened something within me until it burst forth the day, I told Miguel, a forsaken, forgotten, paralyzed old man who cried big tears and sobbed constantly, that I loved him”. He stopped crying and looked into my eyes. ‘You do?’ he asked with the innocence of a child. ‘I do,’ I answered. At that moment I began to live again.”
Secondly, all kinds of people hurt us - family, friends, strangers. Most of our hurts come from unintentional actions or words of others, which we misinterpret as antagonistic to ourselves. We have the choice of holding on to the hurts or letting them go. What Jesus calls us to do is to be active in loving.
Instead of returning injury with injury, we are to do good to those who hurt us, pray for those who curse us, give more to those who take from us.
There’s a famous story about a foolish man who heard that Buddha taught that you should never return evil for evil. One day the man met Buddha and decided to see if Buddha actually practiced what he preached. The man began heaping all kinds of verbal abuse upon the great teacher, shouting at him and calling him a stupid fool. All the while, Buddha listened patiently.
When the man ran out of things to say, Buddha said to him, “My son, if a man declines to accept a gift from another, to whom does the gift go?” The man replied scornfully, “Any fool knows that. The gift goes back to the giver!” “My son,” said Buddha, “you have just given me much verbal abuse. I decline to accept your gift.” The man made no reply. Then Buddha said further: “My son, a man who slanders a virtuous person is like a man who spits at the sky. The spittle doesn’t soil the sky. It only comes back to soil the face of the man who spit.” “A man who slanders a virtuous person is like a man who flings dust into the wind. The dust doesn’t reach its target. It only blows back into the face of the man who threw it.”
This brings us to the third point. In a sense we must even forgive God, for we often misread God as an enemy. God wants only our good. We sometimes make God the scapegoat of our sufferings and pains.
God does not want our illness, only our healing. Jesus, who shows us how God loves, spent his time healing and forgiving. So we must reinterpret our suffering in the light of God’s love and quit putting blame on God.
The important element in our forgiveness is our motive. In the early years of Christianity, Nero, the ruler of ancient Rome, killed the son of one of his nobles and invited the father to dinner that same evening. The nobleman went to the dinner and acted as if nothing went wrong. When asked why he did that, he answered: “I have another son.” His real motive was fear. Often the oppressed are motivated by fear when they “forgive” the powerful.
Jesus give us the proper motive for loving and forgiving. It is that God loves all people steadfastly. God holds no grudges, returns good for evil, accepts even when rejected. As Jesus says elsewhere, God makes the sun shine on the good and the bad. If we are children of God, we are to act according to the role that is ours through Baptism.
It is also important to remember that, even though we have sinned, have been ungrateful for and forgetful of God’s love, have even rejected God by our sinfulness, God still loves us. There’s no way to lose God’s love. We can turn away from God, but God will never turn against us. That’s reason enough to love our enemies.
A poet once wrote that forgiveness is the perfume of a flower crushed. The readings today call us to perfume our world so full of anger and hatred and violence and wars with the fragrance of our forgiveness. We can each of us in our own little piece of the world turn hatred into love, rejection into acceptance, violence into peace by loving inclusively even as God loves.
Let’s close with a prayer: Lord, when we become angry, lonely or depressed, remind us that we get back from life exactly what we give to life. If we forgive, we will be forgiven. If we give, we will receive. If we love, we will be loved. If we sing a song to others, they will sing a song to us. Lord, let us never forget the “law of the echo.” What we sow we shall reap. Amen.