Sunday, October 08, 2006
Thinking on the Margin, Brian Hollar.
[Jesus said] “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies.” Matthew 5:43.
If ever there was a claim that Jesus was counter-cultural, today’s gospel proves it. We, his followers, must turn the other cheek to the one who has just struck us. Someone claiming our property? Give that person more. Obliged to go where you don’t want to go? Go even further. Give to the beggar and agree with the one who wants to borrow from you. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Hands up the one who has done all these without a second thought. On Monday October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into a one-room schoolhouse where Amish youngsters in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were studying. He shot eight young girls aged 6-13, killing five of them. He then shot himself. The attack was completely unprovoked and utterly unexpected. The small conservative Amish community, a Christian sect derived from the Swiss German Anabaptist tradition, was devastated.
A grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man. He now stands before a just God.” Hours after the dread event, a young Amish man knocked on the door of the killer’s house. His widow, mother and father, themselves devastated by the event, were there. He told them that his community did not see them and their family as the enemy but rather that they too were a family grieving the loss of a son. About 30 Amish attended the funeral of her son, among them some parents of the children he had killed. They offered their condolences to the grieving family afterwards. One cannot imagine a deeper demonstration of forgiveness than that showed by these peace-loving people to the family of a man who had wreaked unprovoked horror upon them. It was a shining, purest example of the very words of the Lord in today’s gospel in action.
We are all called to show exactly the same reaction to anything unjust or unfair thrown at us. The Christian heart has no place at any time, in any place, for any reason, for hatred, revenge or retaliation. Remember the Lord at another time, when Peter asked him how many times must he forgive? Six times? Seven?” Jesus said “seventy times seven times” or, less poetically, always (Matthew 18:21-22). And there are the Lord’s dying words from the cross itself to forgive those who had done that to him. Hence Christians must be cloaked in forgiveness now and always. It is at the heart of our belief always and everywhere, without exception. The root meaning of the word is to give up or even let go. The opposite would be to grasp whatever has not been forgiven, with all the evil repercussions that would entail. But it is not the easiest lesson the Lord has given us, probably the reverse – the most difficult of all. That’s why we have a sacrament of forgiveness and a God who calls us to forgive at all times as often, indeed, as we are forgiven for our sins. That is the way of life and light to which each one of us is invited.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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