Pastoral Reflections

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Let’s take a moment and reflect over how we typically respond to or process personal hurts and offenses? Some of us may move down a path of sadness and self-imposed isolation; not wanting to talk to or have anything to do with anyone for a period of time. Others of us may become visibly angry, sometimes even vengeful, or perhaps passive aggressive or we may find ourselves indiscriminately lashing out at everyone around us. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us some valuable teachings about how to respond to personal hurt and pain (Matt 5:38-48).

Instead of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” Christ encourages us to simply forgive others. If you think about it, forgiving others is perhaps a rather practical and logical approach. After all, if someone plucks out an eye in revenge that really solves nothing, and it now leaves two people without eyes. Plucking out a tooth in revenge does not solve a problem either as now, there are two people with missing teeth.

When Jesus says to offer no resistance to someone who is evil (Matt 5:39) we might wonder if that is wise or sound advice. If we are to follow this advice, would that simply allow evil over time to triumph?
St. Paul once used the imagery of heaping hot coals of kindness on those who deride us, as that will win them over easier than the application of open hostility. It’s a variation of the proverb ‘you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

In the life of Jesus, we see that he did not offer resistance to the evil inflicted upon him. As he was being crucified he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Often, if we take matters into our own hands to eradicate evil, we might run the risk of going too far and end up just trying to assert a victory for the sake of victory. It’s kind of like addressing an issue when we are very angry, we often wind up saying things we might not believe or things that we may later regret.

Jesus goes on to teach us whom and how we are to love. Instead of loving only those whom we like or who may love us, Jesus instructs us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In reality this is good psychology, as praying for those who hurt us can ultimately emotionally free us from negativity and give us peace.

Today, Jesus says something that may even frighten us. He says that if we follow his advice that we will assuredly become sons of our Father in heaven. So is the converse true? Namely if we do not follow his advice, will we never become true sons or daughters of the heavenly Father?

When Jesus taught the apostles how to pray the “Our Father”, his prayer includes the petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is expressed. That is a salient reference to the importance of forgiveness. But there is another reason why Jesus says we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. He reminds us that just as the sun shines on everyone and the rains fall on everyone, God does not limit his love only to those who are good. So it is not up to us to decide who deserves our love and who doesn’t. If God doesn’t limit his goodness, what gives us the authority to act toward others differently?

The verse in today’s Gospel that perhaps causes people the greatest difficulty is Jesus’ advice to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48). How could we ever attain the perfection of God?
The original Greek vernacular in which Matthew wrote may be better understood as, Jesus asking us to take God as our role model; have the same aims and goals as God; aspire to fulfill those same aims and goals the best we humanly can. Is there anything that can help us to forgive those who have hurt us?

The following are perhaps some helpful thoughts and suggestions to consider. First of all, we must remember that forgiveness is a willful decision and not an emotion. Hopefully our emotions will ultimately follow our willful decision to forgive, but firstly we must decide to forgive.
Second, forgiveness does not mean blotting out our painful memories. Forgiveness does mean not acting out of those painful memories. That is why when a hurt is deep, counseling or therapy may be necessary to free us from acting out over our past negative experiences.

Third, when people experience difficulty forgiving a hurt, I encourage them sometimes to repeat to themselves, “I will not allow that person to continue to control my life. I am taking control of my life back from that person. From now on I will be in charge of my life”.

Fourthly, another thought that can help us to forgive is to remember that Jesus died to save the person that hurt us just as he died to save us and those we love. I often invite people to try to visualize the hurtful person standing beneath Jesus while he was on the cross.

Sometimes people say that they will forgive, if the person who has hurt them makes an apology.
Personally, I think that position is in some way connected with wanting to control the person who has hurt them. Forgiving somebody, as Jesus desires from us, involves giving up the need for an apology and the need to control or dominate the person who has hurt us. Surrendering the need to expect them to ask for forgiveness actually frees us to forgive them as Christ forgave his executioners.

When Mother Teresa accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1979, part of her acceptance speech was as follows. “It is not enough for us to say: ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.’ Saint John says that you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbor. (1 John 4:20) How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live? And so this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, (sometimes) has to hurt.”

How can we love like this? We often hear that to err is human and to forgive is divine. It is a grace from God to forgive and when the hurt is great we may need to pray a great deal for the grace to forgive.
At another time, Mother Teresa wrote, “To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another.”

In conclusion, let me share the following story. Two friends were hiking through the desert. At some point of the journey, they had an argument; and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, he wrote in the sand: “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.” They kept on walking, until they found an oasis, where they decided to refresh with a swim. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, and his friend saved him. After the friend recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: “Today my best friend saved my life.” The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, “after I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?” The friend replied “when someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

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