Today’s Gospel focuses on human relationships and how they are related to Jesus’ demands to His disciples, “you must love your enemies . . . and be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Our immediate reaction is “How are all these possible when all of us are sinners?
One of the basic experiences of human relationships is disagreements; disagreements are differences in opinions and preferences in ways of doing things or living. Such differences can cause anxieties, if they not checked and stopped early enough. And, if the parties involved are not willing to compromise or concede in their differences, then strains in the relationship will surface, and such strains can lead to conflicts and complexities in the relationship. In its extreme case, if the conflicts are deep and destructive, or hurtful and harmful, the seriousness can create enemies in the relationship.
And so, if we reflect on our experiences in relationships, whether with people we do not know well or even with people we know well, what can begin as simple differences in opinions and preferences can potentially lead to enmity in relationships. As such, the first lesson we can take note of today is that we should diffuse and resolve all perceived negative differences in relationships as soon as possible.
In other words, let us note that what can begin as an innocent and unintended difference in opinion, if not clarified in time and if the hurts that ensue from the differences are allowed to worsen and fester, we know very well that we are then prone to listening to negative remarks and feedbacks from others about the people we had the disagreement with, and this can so easily develop into prejudices about the person; which in turn will worsen into gossips, slanders, character assassinations and the like. And what would likely happen next is the break ups in the friendships, Church communities, marriages and even the priesthood and religious vocation.
Jesus in today’s Gospel, amongst the many different demands that He made of His disciples, one of the most striking one is, “love your enemies . . .” Jesus then explained, “for if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And, if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” And so, in explaining what He meant when He said, “love your enemies?” Jesus added, “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, such sayings of Jesus, are clearly urging us to live our Christian faith radically and beyond the minds and common experiences of people. Thus, it is not surprising that many have turned away from Jesus and the Gospels that He proclaimed. If we are not careful and if we are not reflecting on our lives deeply enough, it would not be surprising if we also feel in our hearts, that it is too much to expect of us to “love our enemies” . . . especially when we have been hurt so deeply. However, before we jump into the conclusion that it is impossible to forgive our enemies, let us reflect on a few true stories on forgiveness.
Rachelle Friedman who was about to get married was one day standing beside a swimming pool, when one of her friends, playfully pushed her into the shallow end of the pool. Rachelle fell into the pool and hit her head at the bottom of the pool, and broke her neck. Since the accident, Rachelle has not been able to feel anything below her neck. Despite the life-changing injury, Rachelle and her fiancé went on with their marriage and Rachelle has never harboured any resentment towards her friend about the freak accident. Rachelle said, “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed by the accident, as it is not going to get you anywhere . . . every one of us make mistakes in our lives.
In another true story, we hear of Pascale Kavanagh who was abused by her mother. Pascale never thought that she would reconnect with her mother ever again as her pain was too deep and traumatic. However, in 2010, her mother suffered several strokes that left her unable to communicate or take care of herself. With no one else to help, Pascale decided to sit by her mother’s bedside and read to her. One day, led to another and after some weeks, the hate she harboured from the deep hurts began to dissipate into forgiveness and love for her mother.
Martin Luther King, the Nobel Prize winner and martyr of the civil rights movement, and a person who practiced what he preached once said, “A reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We can never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate . . . This is because by its very nature hate destroys and tears down, but love by its very nature creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power. (re: Strength to Love, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, pp.46-47).
Finally, and most inspiringly, let us reflect on this true story of a Father who wrote a letter to the man on the death row, for brutally killing His Son. This is what he wrote:
“You are probably surprised that I, of all people, am writing a letter to you. However, I ask that you read it in its entirety and only then consider my request seriously. As the Father of the man whom you took part in murdering, I have something very important to say to you.
I forgive you. With all my heart, I forgive you. I realize it may be hard for you to believe, but I really do. At your trial, when you confessed that you had murdered my Son and asked for My forgiveness, I immediately granted you that forgiving love from my heart. I can only hope you believe me and will accept my forgiveness.
But this is not all I have to say to you. I want to make you an offer — I want you to become my adopted child. You see, my Son who died was my only child, and I now want to share my life with you and leave my riches to you. This may not make sense to you or anyone else, but I believe you are worth the offer.
I have arranged matters so that, if you accept my offer of forgiveness, not only will you be pardoned for your crime, but you will also be set free from your imprisonment, and your death sentence will also be dismissed. At that point, you will become my adopted child and heir to all my riches.
In all honesty, I am fully aware that I am making a very risky offer to you as, for whatever reasons you may have, you might even be tempted to reject my offer completely. As such, I am making my offer to you without any reservation.
In making such an offer, I realise that I look very foolish, especially when you have murdered my Son so mercilessly and brutally. The reason why I am making this offer to you is that I now have a great love and an unchangeable forgiveness in my heart for you.
Finally, I am fully aware that you are not perfect, and that you are concerned that you may later on in life, lose your right to being the heir of my wealth, when you should fall into sin and cause you to be denied your rights as an heir to my wealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I like you to remember that if I can forgive you for murdering My Son, so can I forgive you for anything. I know you will never be perfect, but you do not have to be perfect to accept My offer. Besides, I believe that once you have accepted my offer and begin to experience the riches that will come to you from me, your heart will be filled with gratitude and love for me.
As such, I dare to trust that you will not let me down. And if you are to accept this offer of mine, then from now on, you are to call me your Father, for that is what I truly am going to be for you.
Signed: Sincerely, The Beloved Father of Jesus.
And so, as I conclude let us remind ourselves that if we are truly able to open our hearts to be enriched and filled by God’s Compassionate Love for us; a Divine Love that is willing to die for us and love us so unconditionally, then the love that we have in our hearts would be the divine power of God’s Love that is infinitely deeper than the human love that Rachelle and Pascale in our story have shown; and with such divine love and God’s strength within us, it is indeed possible for us to “love our enemies” . . . as Jesus has proclaimed for us in today’s Gospel.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
Ref: adapted from: www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring by Jane Claire Hervey
Ref: adapted from: http://www.inspirationalarchive.com/2884/forgiveness
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